Biodiversity and non-communicable disease - new research initatives

Research into the linkages between biodiversity, ecosystems and human health has expanded rapidly in the past decade. The fields of drug discovery, medical technology, physiology, dietary health, medical microbiology and public health planning have particularly benefitted from a wider understanding of the importance of the goods and services we derive from biodiversity. However, in some areas, the evidence base required to inform specific interventions aimed at health-biodiversity linkages is still deficient, particularly in the case of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and in the context of social and epidemiological change.

Last year, the COHAB Initiative Secretariat invited submissions on the links between biodiversity and NCDs. We asked, what is the evidence base, and what more is needed? We received some thought-provoking submissions, and several contributors raised additional questions. One key theme is the use of agricultural biodiversity in addressing NCDs through improved diets. It is clear that, although the evidence for improved health outcomes and reduced disease risks through improved dietary diversity is strong, details of potential benefits to specific diseases is often lacking. Also, our understanding of any wider sociological relevance of health-biodiversity issues is weak.

What does biodiversity science have to contribute to our understanding of health transitions (where NCDs become a more significant cause of morbidity and mortality than infectious diseases, as a result of social and economic development)?  Does our knowledge of the health impacts of ecosystem change suggest the need for a new, "second" health transition theory? Improving dietary diversity is all very well, but is it a realistic option in all regions? Can biodiversity contribute meaningfully to NCD prevention in crowded industrial cities? If so, are interventions economically or socially feasible? Is there enough evidence to inform research priorities for specific NCDs?

In light of these questions, the Secretariat aims to explore the feasibility of providing an international scholarship programme on research into biodiversity and non-communicable disease. The aim of this programme would be to encourage and support novel cross-disciplinary research partnerships on this theme, and particularly to explore the following topics:

(1) the sustainable use of biodiversity resources in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of NCDs,

(2) the relevance of biodiversity and ecosystem change to our understanding of health transition research and related fields,

(3) the development of regionally-specific policy guidance on biodiversity and NCDs.


We wish to invite submissions from COHAB Initiative partners, other organisations and individuals on the need for, or feasibility of, such a project; how it could be run; and what research priorities it should have.

Write to:

Biodiversity and NCDs feasibility study,

COHAB Initiative secretariat,

PO Box 16,

Tuam, Co. Galway,


or email us at:



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