Saving biodiversity: why our mental and physical health depends on it
Natural environments and green spaces provide ecosystem services that physical health depends on. They improve mental health, mitigate allergies and reduce all-cause, respiratory, cardiovascular, physical health and cancer mortality. The presence, accessibility, proximity and greenness of green spaces determine the magnitude of their positive health effects, but the role of biodiversity (including species and ecosystem diversity) within green spaces remains underexplored. Many of the contributions of living nature (diversity of organisms, ecosystems, and their processes) to people’s quality of life can be referred to as “ecosystem services.” They include water purification, provision of food, stabilization of climate, protection from flooding, and many others
Biodiversity supports ecosystem services mitigating heat, noise and air pollution, which all mediate the positive health effects of green spaces, but direct and long-term health outcomes of species diversity have been insufficiently studied so far.
The pressures of daily life can stretch our ability to handle stress, focus our attention and solve problems, which puts us at risk of being stressed and mentally ill. But research has shown that biodiverse environments can help us recharge, physical health depends on this on. For example, people living in neighborhoods with more birds report being less stressed. And a study which involved stressed people looking at meadows featuring a variety of plants found that people were most relaxed when looking at meadows with at least 32 different species of plants, compared to just one species.
That said, biodiversity also has the potential to harm us. Seasonal allergies, stinging nettles, ticks and viruses are all examples of the harmful side of the natural world. But more of a concern is the fact that unsustainable management of biodiversity, through habitat loss or the wildlife trade, can increase the risk of interactions with animals that carry infectious diseases – and make future pandemics more likely.
The pressures of daily life can stretch our ability to handle stress, focus our attention and solve problems, which puts us at risk of being stressed and mentally ill. But research has shown that biodiverse environments can help us recharge.