A review research has found that changes in land-use patterns alter the behaviour of animals, and may lead to the emergence of new diseases like COVID-19 from mammals like rodents, livestock, bats, and primates.
According to the study, published in the journal Mammal Review, most new human viruses are transmitted from other animals, especially those kept in industrial domestication systems where a large number of animals are confined to a small space in close physical contact.
Citing an example, the scientists, including those from the University of Exeter in the UK, said in Indian dairy farms, abandoning infected cattle, lack of education about bovine tuberculosis, and only consulting veterinarians as a last resort worsens the problem.
The researchers added that deforestation is also associated with an increased emergence of pathogens in bats around the world, due to the creation of patches of habitat that isolate or divide populations.
This can alter the behaviour of the flying mammals, reduce their biodiversity, and compromise the ecosystem functions they offer, the scientists said.
They explained that such conditions increase public health risks as they create diverse wildlife–livestock–human interfaces where viruses and other pathogens can easily be transmitted, as in the case of the virus that causes COVID-19.
In the research, the scientists assessed how changes in land-use — such as deforestation, urbanisation, and conversion to agriculture — have affected such transmission.
The study authors call for more research to help predict how new diseases emerge and spread in response to land-use changes.
“We highlight major gaps in our understanding of how land-use change affects the spread of diseases from mammals to humans in terms of how key hosts, like bats, are affected,” said study co-author Orly Razgour from the University of Exeter.
The scientists believe that there is an urgent need for more studies that link animal ecology and responses to land-use change with pathogen ecology and disease spread.