Biodiversity is Critical to Human Health

Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on Earth, including all species, their genes, and the ecosystems they form. Only 1.9 million species have been identified, but the total number could be around 15 million. Many species, particularly microbes and those in hard-to-reach areas, are still unknown. The natural extinction rate of species was estimated to be one per million yearly before human activity. But now, human actions have greatly accelerated the extinction rate, with some species facing 100-1000 times the normal extinction rate. This has led scientists to declare that we are now in the sixth great extinction event, caused by human activity and different from the previous one 65 million years ago due to natural causes.

Biodiversity and Human Health

From the diverse array of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains we consume to the bacteria and microorganisms that inhabit our environment, biodiversity plays a crucial role in maintaining our health. By understanding the importance of a diverse diet and environment, we can make informed choices that promote our health and well-being.

Whether we realize it or not, our health is directly tied to the health of the natural world. As we continue to face the challenges of climate change and loss of biodiversity, it is increasingly important to understand why preserving and protecting the world's biodiversity is critical to our health. With this comprehensive guide, we hope to provide a deeper understanding of the crucial role that biodiversity plays in maintaining our health and well-being.

The Benefits of a Diverse Environment

Our environment plays a significant role in determining our health and well-being. Biodiversity, the variety of life in a particular ecosystem, has a profound impact on the health of our environment and, by extension, our own health.

The Impact of Microorganisms and Bacteria

Exposure to different microorganisms and bacteria is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. Our bodies are exposed to numerous microorganisms daily, which helps us build a strong immunity to different diseases. Biodiverse environments, such as forests and wetlands, provide a rich source of different bacteria, fungi, and viruses, which can help strengthen our immune systems.

The Role of Biodiversity in Creating a Healthy Environment

Biodiversity helps maintain an ecosystem's balance and stability, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy environment. For example, in a diverse forest ecosystem, different species of plants and animals interact and support each other, creating a stable environment that can resist and recover from environmental stressors. Similarly, a healthy and diverse ocean ecosystem provides the foundation for the many species of fish and other marine life that we rely on for food and other resources.

A loss of biodiversity can seriously affect our environment and health. For example, the loss of pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, can lead to a decline in the production of food crops. This can lead to malnutrition and a decline in overall health.

Biodiversity and Medical Research

The Importance of Other Species in Understanding Human Health

Nature has a striking uniformity that allows researchers to use various life forms, from the simplest bacteria to non-human primates, to understand human physiology better and treat human diseases.

The Contributions of Animals, Plants, and Microbes in Medical Advances

Using animals in medical research has made numerous medical breakthroughs possible, including surgical anesthetics, insulin for diabetes, heart and lung bypass machines, vaccines, and numerous other medical procedures and treatments. All human medicines must first be tested in laboratory animals before being tested on humans.

The Impact of Genetics Research

One area of research that has contributed to our understanding of human genetics is genetics research. Several organisms, including the Common House Mouse and the bacterium E.coli, have provided valuable insights into the function of specific genes in human health and disease.

Biodiversity and the Spread of Infectious Diseases

It's easy to assume that we contract infections solely from other people. But the truth is, the majority of human infectious diseases - around 60% - are linked to pathogens that once lived and thrived in other organisms.

Nature has a way of connecting us all, and pathogens are no exception. They can enter our bodies through contaminated meat, exposure to infected animals, or from being injected by vectors like mosquitoes or ticks. These pathogens depend on their host organisms and their ecosystems to survive, making it possible for them to be transmitted from one species to another.

The Interplay of Biodiversity and Disease

It's a delicate dance, the interactions between organisms and their ecosystems. And when that balance is disrupted, it can have major consequences for the emergence, transmission, and spread of human infectious diseases. Ecosystem disruption and loss of biodiversity can create opportunities for new diseases to arise and increase the risk of existing diseases spreading.

Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss

The impact of human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, on our planet is far-reaching and disastrous. If we don't take immediate action to reduce our carbon footprint, the consequences could be catastrophic. By 2050, climate change is projected to become the biggest threat to biodiversity, surpassing even habitat loss. The situation is dire, not only for species on land, but also those in the oceans and fresh water.

The Dangers of Disrupting Natural Temperatures

Nature has a delicate balance that allows species to thrive in specific temperatures. Climate change disrupts this balance by causing temperatures to soar beyond what many species can tolerate. This is not only affecting the affected species but also the entire ecosystem it is a part of. As temperatures continue to rise, species struggle to adapt, and their survival is at risk.

Learn More

Read the latest research on the dangers of extreme heat.

The IPCC's Bleak Predictions

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that, if we continue on our current trajectory, the Earth's average surface temperature could rise by as much as 6 degrees Celsius (11 degrees Fahrenheit) or more by 2100. This extreme warming could have catastrophic consequences for most species, including our own, and ecosystems. The full extent of the impact is uncertain, but it is clear that the consequences will be devastating.

The Importance of a Diverse Diet

A diverse and nutritious diet is an essential component of maintaining good health. By consuming various fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, we can ensure that our bodies receive a wide range of important nutrients. In this section, we will explore the role that a diverse diet plays in maintaining our health and well-being.

How a Diverse Diet Contributes to our Health

A diet that is rich in variety provides the body with a wide range of essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients play a critical role in maintaining our physical and mental health, helping to prevent disease, promoting healthy aging, and boosting our immune system.

The Role of Different Types of Nutrients in Maintaining Health

Each type of nutrient plays a specific role in the body, and a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is essential to ensure that we receive an adequate amount of each nutrient. For example, vitamins such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E are important antioxidants that help protect the body from damage caused by harmful free radicals. On the other hand, minerals like magnesium and calcium are important for maintaining strong bones and teeth.

The Benefits of Eating a Variety of Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains

In addition to providing the body with essential nutrients, a diverse diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains has numerous other health benefits. These foods are typically low in calories and high in fiber, helping to promote feelings of fullness and reducing the risk of overeating. They are also rich in antioxidants, which help protect the body from damage caused by harmful free radicals and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.

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The Negative Consequences of Biodiversity Loss

As our world becomes more industrialized and urbanized, we are seeing a decline in biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. This loss of biodiversity has far-reaching consequences, including impacts on our health. In this section, we will explore how biodiversity loss can harm our health and why it is critical to take steps to protect and conserve our planet's biodiversity.

The Impact of Loss of Habitat and Food Sources

One of the primary ways biodiversity loss can harm our health is by reducing the number of available habitats and food sources. As habitats are destroyed, wildlife and plants are forced to relocate or go extinct, reducing the number of species that we have access to for food. This reduction in available food sources can lead to a more limited and monotonous diet, which can increase our risk of developing nutrient deficiencies and other health problems.

In addition, habitat loss also directly impacts our health through increased exposure to harmful pollutants and chemicals. For example, when wildlife habitats are destroyed, the animals that once lived there are often forced to relocate to areas closer to human settlements. This increased proximity to humans can result in increased exposure to pollutants and chemicals, which can negatively impact our health.

The Dangers of Relying on Monocultures and Limited Diets

Another way biodiversity loss can harm our health is by increasing our reliance on monocultures and limited diets. When we rely on only a few species of crops or animals for our food, we increase the risk of disease outbreaks and food shortages. This is because monocultures are more vulnerable to diseases and pests, which can quickly decimate entire crops. In addition, limited diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies, as we are not getting the full range of nutrients that our bodies need from a varied diet.

Recap of Key Points

Biodiversity plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of our planet and ourselves. From the food we eat to our environment, a diverse and thriving ecosystem is essential to our well-being. Our diets should be diverse and rich in a variety of nutrients to support optimal health, while exposure to different microorganisms and bacteria in our environment can boost our immune system. However, the loss of biodiversity poses a significant threat to our health, as it leads to a lack of habitat and food sources, as well as an increased dependence on limited diets. Climate change exacerbates the issue, with species and ecosystems at risk of extinction due to excessive warming temperatures.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, biodiversity is a critical component of our health, and we must take action to protect it. From reducing our carbon footprint to supporting sustainable agriculture, every effort counts in preserving the diverse and thriving ecosystem we rely on. It's essential to recognize the interconnectedness of all life on earth and our actions' impact on the planet and ourselves. Let's work together to create a healthier future for generations to come.


  1. World Health Organization: "Biodiversity and Human Health: An Ecosystem Service Approach" In this paper, the authors provide a comprehensive overview of the relationship between biodiversity and human health, including the various ways in which ecosystem services provided by biodiversity contribute to human health and well-being.
  2. National Library of Medicine: "Biodiversity and Human Health: A Scientific Review" In this scientific review, the authors examine the evidence for the relationship between biodiversity and human health, including the ways in which biodiversity loss can impact the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases and the importance of biodiversity in the provision of ecosystem services essential to human health.
William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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