Saturday, April 14, 2012

Just when we thought that it couldn't get worse...

... it likely will. According to a new study from Nature:
we're already heading for huge fungal damage to vital crops and ecosystems over the coming decades. If we don't do more to stop these diseases' spread, their impact could be devastating.
Awww... shoooooot.... So we'll have massive economic impacts due to the widespread death of crops. Could it get any worse? Well...
But the threat has gained a new urgency lately, and crops aren't the only thing at risk. More and more of these killer fungi are appearing, and they're increasingly attacking animals.
Emerging fungal epidemics already account for 72 per cent of extinctions from disease – more than bacteria and viruses put together. For instance, amphibians are being wiped out at an unprecedented rate by a deadly chytrid fungus that's been spread by the global animal trade; at least 500 species are thought to be at risk. Likewise, bats are being struck down by so-called White Nose Syndrome, which has spread all over North America since it was first spotted in 2006.
Yeah, but bats are icky and amphibians do what for us? I mean, it can't be that bad for humans, right?
In many cases there are direct consequences for humans. For example, bats eat insects that would otherwise attack crops; studies suggest White Nose Syndrome could end up costing farmers some $3.7 billion a year. But even organisms that aren't obviously useful to us will have unpleasant consequences somewhere down the line if they disappear.

"Ultimately you can't separate ecosystem health from human health – eventually, these birds will come home to roost," Fisher says, adding that the less diverse ecosystems become, the less they can stand up to sudden changes.
Oh yeah... it's an ecosystem that we live in. So, does that mean that we're also causing this to happen to everything (including us)? Yes, yes we are:
Fungal diseases are even making climate change worse; scientists estimate that the trees they've killed or damaged would otherwise have absorbed 230-580 megatonnes of CO2 – around 0.07 per cent of the total in the atmosphere.
And what's the solution for attempting to halt a kingdom of species that we know relatively little about, that can swap out parts of their genomes with other species in order to better adapt, that are almost impossible to get rid of once they've become established? Well, prevention's about the only thing that is likely to work:
Fisher says we need to start taking biosecurity far more seriously – cutting down the amount of living material we transport around the world, quarantining what we do transport far more rigorously, and doing more to stop the illegal trade in plants and animals. Eventually, breakthroughs in genetic diagnostic technology may make it possible to screen plants and animals for fungus or spores. But in the meantime, we need to do more to prevent outbreaks, and move quickly to control those that do happen before they get out of hand.
Of course, I'm sure that lots of people who want to increase world capital or develop markets are just going to be so behind this idea. Like I said: "Just when we thought that it couldn't get worse, it likely will."

Story from PhysOrg

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