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Human Health as a Judicious Conservation Opportunity

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In this Conservation Biology editorial, authors Kent Redford, Samuel Myers, Taylor Ricketts, and Steven Osofsky explore the links between ecosystem alteration and human health and the evidence base for pursuing this new area of study. "Despite attempts to link conservation to health, human health and its relationship to natural ecosystems has unfortunately not been the subject of much scientific attention by the conservation community," explains the editorial. The authors call for the conservation and public health communities to proactively and jointly investigate this new area of study to build ecological resilience and inform policy makers.

Conservation and human health may seem like two separate issues, but they are actually interconnected. A growing body of research shows that the preservation of natural areas and biodiversity is not only important for ecological reasons but can also have a positive impact on human health.

The Hidden Connection between Human Health and Conservation

The connection between conservation and human health lies in the ecosystem services that nature provides. Ecosystem services are the benefits that humans derive from nature, such as clean air and water, fertile soil, and natural resources. These services are essential to human health and well-being, and they are often taken for granted.

When natural areas are conserved, they can provide ecosystem services that are vital to human health. For example, forests can help regulate air quality, absorb carbon dioxide, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Wetlands can filter water and reduce the risk of flooding. Coastal ecosystems can protect against storms and erosion.

The Role of Conservation in Promoting Human Health

Conserving natural areas and biodiversity can also directly benefit human health. Exposure to nature has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including reduced stress, improved cognitive function, and increased physical activity. In fact, doctors in some countries are now prescribing time in nature as a way to treat chronic illnesses such as obesity and depression.

Furthermore, natural areas can provide important resources for traditional medicine and food security. Indigenous people have long used plants and animals from their local ecosystems for medicinal purposes, and conserving these ecosystems can help preserve this knowledge and promote sustainable practices.

Conserving Biodiversity while Improving Human Health

Conservation efforts can also be designed to promote both biodiversity and human health. For example, agroforestry practices that combine tree planting with agriculture can improve soil quality, reduce erosion, and provide food and income for local communities. Such practices can also conserve biodiversity and provide habitat for wildlife.

Why Investing in Conservation is Essential for Human Health

Investing in conservation is essential for ensuring the continued provision of ecosystem services and the promotion of human health. However, conservation efforts are often underfunded and undervalued, despite the many benefits they provide.

It is important to recognize that the benefits of conservation are not only ecological but also social and economic. Investing in conservation can create jobs, promote tourism, and improve local economies. Furthermore, by conserving natural areas, we are preserving the natural heritage of future generations.

In conclusion, human health and conservation are not separate issues but are interconnected. Conserving natural areas and biodiversity can provide essential ecosystem services that are vital to human health, while exposure to nature can directly benefit human health. Investing in conservation is essential for ensuring the continued provision of these services and for promoting a healthy and sustainable future for all.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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