Tropical peatland conservation could protect humans from new diseases

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Tropical Peatlands fire

New research has found that the conservation of tropical peatlands could reduce the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the likelihood of new diseases jumping from animals to humans.

Dr Susan M. Cheyne, Senior Lecturer in Biological Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University and Co-Director of Borneo Nature Foundation International, co-authored the study led by the University of Exeter. The scientists concluded that the high biodiversity in tropical peat-swamp forests, combined with habitat destruction and wildlife harvesting, created conditions that could encourage infectious diseases to jump to humans - known as zoonotic diseases.

Dr Cheyne said: “Tropical peat-swamp forests are rich in biodiversity, including numerous vertebrates known to represent zoonotic risk, such as bats, rodents, pangolins and primates. Tropical peat-swamp forests are critical for maintaining biodiversity and for managing human health.”

 The paper published in the journal PeerJ, is entitled: Tropical Peatlands and their conservation are important in the context of COVID-19 and potential future (zoonotic) disease pandemics. 

Tropical peat-swamp forests are rich in biodiversity, including numerous vertebrates known to represent zoonotic risk, such as bats, rodents, pangolins and primates. Tropical peat-swamp forests are critical for maintaining biodiversity and for managing human health.

Dr Susan M. Cheyne, Senior Lecturer in Biological Anthropology, Oxford Brookes University

Protecting tropical peatlands important for human health

Lead author Dr Mark Harrison, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation Exeter, and Borneo Nature Foundation International comments: "We're not saying tropical peatlands are unique in this respect – but they are one important habitat where zoonotic diseases could emerge.

"Exploitation and fragmentation of these habitats, as well as peat wildfires (ultimately driven by human activity) and wildlife harvesting bring more and more people into close contact with peatland biodiversity, increasing the potential for zoonotic disease transmission.

"Our review shows that protecting tropical peatlands isn't therefore just about wildlife and carbon emissions – it's also important for human health."

Fishing in the smoke

 

Poorly resourced countries face more severe impacts

The study assessed the possible impact of COVID-19 on local communities around tropical peatlands, and identified numerous threats. Many are relatively poorly resourced to tackle pandemics.

"Many communities in these areas are remote, relatively poor, disconnected, have limited infrastructure, sub-standard or non-existent medical facilities, and depend heavily on external trade," said Dr Ifo Suspense, of Université Marien, Republic of Congo, who contributed to the review. "As a result, the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 may be particularly severe in these communities.”

The paper: "Tropical peatlands and their conservation are important in the context of COVID-19 and potential future (zoonotic) disease pandemics." is published in the journal PeerJ

Pictured:

Above:  Peatland fire encroaching into forest. Note the immediate fire damage to the forest on the top side, and older fire damage on the bottom side, of the river. Below: (Fishing in the fire) local fishers working under thick haze conditions from peatland fires in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo credits: (above) Markurius Sera/Borneo Nature Foundation Indonesia and (below) Suzanne Turnock/Borneo Nature Foundation Indonesia.