A Change In Climate May Mean More Than Creaky Joints: Symposium At ESA Annual Meeting Will Examine Linkages Between Ecological Change And Human Health

August 05, 1998

Soon, people will be slipping ecology into their small talk:

- Rainy year.
- So what, more colds maybe, but no biggie. I'm worried about the mice.
- Exactly. Rain means more mouse food and more mice means another Hantavirus outbreak.

From the ivory tower to everyday conversation, a scientific symposium convenes to discuss the effect of ecological change on human health at the ESA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, from August 2-6. This year's meeting is being held in conjunction with the American Institute of Biological Sciences and eight other societies.

The symposium, "Leopold and Hippocrates: Linkages Between Human Health and Ecological Change," provides a comprehensive, up-to-date look at the scientific understanding of emerging infectious disease (EID) transmission, food/water quality degradation, and biodiversity/ ecosystem services loss. The symposium is scheduled from 1:00 - 5:00 p.m. on August 5 in room 309 of the Baltimore Convention Center.

On the EID front, Jonathan Patz of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health will join Elaine Matthews of the Columbia University Center for Climate Systems Research and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in a discussion of the role of climate change in future disease transmission. While the climate-linked scourge of malaria may not be a U.S. problem, new diseases such as Hantavirus, which strikes the U.S. Southwest, will keep scientists and their vegetation surveying satellite busy.

Building on the theme of disease, Francesca Grifo of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History will discuss the effect of disrupted food production systems on populations susceptible to disease and malnourishment. The implication is: malnourished peoples will not only have a greater chance of contracting diseases, such as intestinal parasites, hepatitis, malaria, and respiratory infections, but will also have a greater chance of spreading them and further burdening health infrastructures.

Water quality will also feature in Grifo's presentation, as diarrhea, cholera, and dysentery could contaminate drinking water if certain landuse changes and ecosystem disruptions continue. Patz's research comes up once again, this time to support the causal relationship between flooding and the degradation of drinking water by the likes of Cryptosporidium. The 1993 Milwaukee outbreak of cryptosporidiosis, which sickened and even killed inhabitants of that city, is still fresh in many minds.

Disease, and food/water quality degradation, are merely topical problems overlying the more fundamental issue of biodiversity and ecosystem loss and its effect on human health. Eric Chivian of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School will review the role biodiversity and ecosystem services play in human health. For instance, pharmaceuticals come from the biodiversity housed in rainforests and sensitive members of the world's biodiversity may be excellent models for human health risks. In addition, ecosystem services that keep earth cycles running smoothly are ultimately responsible for human life and would be prohibitively expensive to replace. Thus, threats to either biodiversity or ecosystem services are cause for concern.

Without a doubt, science will uncover more links between ecology and human health in the future, making ecology ever more important and underscoring the importance of cooperation between those working in the fields of ecology and public health.

Annual Meeting Information

Members of the media and freelance writers are invited to attend the Ecological Society of America's 1998 Annual Meeting to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 2-6, 1998. This year's meeting is being held in conjunction with The American Institute for Biological Sciences and eight other societies. The theme is "Ecological Exchanges Between Major Ecosystems" and some 4,200 scientists will be in attendance. The meeting will feature symposia, field trips, and numerous poster and paper presentations.

All-Society Opening Ceremonies (August 2, 1998)

Rita Colwell, the newly confirmed Director of the National Science Foundation, will present the keynote address. Her speech is entitled "Balancing the Biocomplexity of the Planet's Living Systems: A 21st Century Task for Science." Also speaking will be Donald Boesch, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies. His speech is titled "Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem: A Challenge for Science and Society."

ESA Plenary Session (August 4, 1998)

Rosina Bierbaum, Acting Associate Director for the Environment of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will deliver the keynote address, "Achieving a Sustainable Future: Challenges and Opportunities in Monitoring and Assessment of Our Nation's Ecosystems." William C. Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and William Matuszeski, Director of EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office will also speak at the plenary.

More meeting information, including symposia schedules, abstracts, and field trips, is available on the ESA Homepage at http://www.sdsc.edu/~ESA.

Newsroom Operation

Members of the press are exempt from registration fees and are free to attend all meeting sessions. A staffed press room, including copier, fax, computer, printer, telephone, and area for interviews, will be available. Please contact Gabriel Paal or Nadine Lymn for more information or to register.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a scientific, non-profit, 7,800-member organization founded in 1915. Through ESA reports, journals, membership research, and expert testimony to Congress, ESA seeks to promote the responsible application of ecological data and principles to the solution of environmental problems. ESA publishes four scientific, peer-reviewed journals: Ecology, Ecological Applications, Ecological Monographs, and Conservation Ecology. Information about the Society and its activities is published in the Society's bi-monthly newsletter, NewSource, and in the quarterly Bulletin.

Ecological Society of America

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