There is evidence that biodiversity may have direct benefits to human health. In addition, biodiversity is very important to support the provisioning of ecosystem services on which humans depend. When natural or technological disasters strike, such as hurricanes or oil spills, there are impacts to human health and well-being that are direct due to risk, displacement, and exposure to toxins, etc. But there are also important, and often long-term, impacts to human health and well-being due to the loss of ecosystem services that impact particular sections of a community more than others, in particular those dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods such as fishing communities and sectors that rely on eco-tourism. This talk will present the findings from a National Academy of Sciences Gulf Exploratory research grant that focused on developing a model of how disasters impact human health and well-being via the impacts to ecosystems, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. This work was developed via expert workshops, literature review, and combining the fields of medical study on human stress and well-being post-disasters with ecological understandings of how ecosystem services are impacted by disasters.
We determined that damaged ecosystem services produce acute, chronic, and cumulative stress in people and these are associated with adverse health outcomes. We developed a Disaster-Pressure State-Ecosystem Services-Response-Health (DPSERH) model that links disaster-degraded ecosystem services to health. To our knowledge this study is one of the first, if not the first, to develop a detailed conceptual model of how degraded ecosystem services affect cumulative stress impacts on the health of individual humans and communities. The model demonstrates that oil spills, hurricanes, and other disasters can change key ecosystem components resulting in reductions in individual and multiple ecosystem services that support people's livelihoods, health, and way of life. Use of this new model will improve planning for responses to future disasters and help society more fully account for the costs and benefits of potential management responses including restoration of ecosystems pre- or post-disaster. The model also can be used to help direct investments in improving response capabilities of the public health community, biomedical researchers, and environmental scientists.