SNAPP TEAM:Ecological Levers for Health
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Can conservation interventions associated with improved human health be applied to human and environmental problems to create new ecologically-based solutions?

“Ecological levers of health” are conservation interventions that have direct, measurable benefits to human health. For example, in West Africa, restoring natural river flow allowed native species to return to the river, which in turn preyed upon animal vectors of schistosomiasis: a debilitating infectious human disease. River flow restoration proved more effective for controlling the spread of the disease than medical interventions alone. This group is searching for more examples of ecological levers for health to alleviate burdens of the world’s most important infectious human diseases while safeguarding or restoring ecosystem integrity and function.


OUR APPROACH: This working group is identifying clear links between infectious disease transmission, environmental change, and actionable solutions at local and regional levels. By synthesizing existing win-win solutions that can benefit people and nature, this team is contributing to Planetary Health research, investment, and evaluation agendas for the 21st century.

Team Status: COMPLETED
Team Critical Challenge: Social Innovations

Ecological and Human Health are Connected

This team’s research has helped make clear that, when local and global ecosystems are degraded due to deforestation, air pollution, contamination, and others, human health can also decline. Inversely, when communities do not have a sufficient level of health, ecological health can often not be prioritized, and could be threatened with further degradation. These facts illustrate the interconnectedness and interdependence of ecological and human health.

Win-Win Scenarios

The team collected examples of win–win interventions that both reduce infectious human diseases and improve ecosystem integrity, using a systematic literature review and expert surveys. They found 48 examples of such win-wins. They also critically evaluated each example to develop a decision hierarchy based on 13 viability criteria, in order to help decision-makers evaluate and compare amongst potential Planetary Health interventions.

Intervention Example

In the Indonesian island of Borneo, the team found that improving rural healthcare and providing training in alternative livelihoods can reduce illegal logging and conserve forest carbon. A key driver of the loss of forests is illegal logging conducted by individuals trying to meet their basic needs, especially health care needs. An analysis of a 10-year impact shows that this community-derived solution both improved human health and reduced forest loss, thereby mitigating climate change and protecting biodiversity.

Key Products
Fighting poverty with synthesis science

This article from the National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis describes how ecological levers for health can help to alleviate poverty

Links between public health and food production

This synthesis of over 70 years of data revealed trends in human infectious disease and described the policy actions necessary to balance public health and agriculture.

A different perspective on preventing pathogen spread from animals to people

Preventing infectious diseases from “spilling over” from animal hosts to people involves disease research and human and animal health professionals to work together. This paper discusses the advantages of adding holistic ecological approaches to protecting public health, as well as domestic animals and wildlife.

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Kevin Lafferty
US Geological Survey (USGS)
Susanne Sokolow
Stanford University
Matt Bonds
Harvard University
Giulio De Leo
Stanford University
Andy Dobson
Princeton University
Andres Garchitorena
Harvard University
Skylar Hopkins
National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), University of California, Santa Barbara
Isabel Jones
Stanford University
Armand Kuris
University of California, Santa Barbara
Sandra Laney
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
David Lopez-Carr
University of California, Santa Barbara
Andy MacDonald
Stanford University
Lisa Mandle
Stanford University
Erin Mordecai
Stanford University
Sarah Olson
Wildlife Conservation Society
John Openshaw
Stanford University
Alison Peel
Griffith University
Raina Plowright
Montana State University
Justin Remais
University of California, Berkeley
Taylor Ricketts
University of Vermont
Gary Tabor
Center for Large Landscape Conservation
Heather Tallis
The Nature Conservancy
Chelsea Wood
University of Washington
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