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Biodiversity, Climate Change and Health

The cur­rent pan­demic clear­ly shows that our heavy inter­fer­ence with eco­sys­tems does not only affect biodi­versi­ty and cli­mate stabil­ity, but also our own health. In the new mod­ule “Bio­diver­sity, Cli­mate Change and Health,” stu­dents of the Elite Grad­uate Pro­gram “Global Change Ecol­ogy” learn about the inter­link­ages be­tween global change and hu­man and ani­mal health.

New courses on a relevant topic

The new mod­ule, which has been intro­duced to the cur­ricu­lum in the sum­mer se­mes­ter 2021, con­sists of a lec­ture and a semi­nar. In the lec­ture, stu­dents learn about the inter­link­ages of biodi­versi­ty loss, cli­mate change and land use change with hu­man and ani­mal health. Fur­ther­more, vari­ous con­cepts like “One Health” and “Planetary Health”, as well as im­portant stake­hold­ers, are intro­duced. In the semi­nar, stu­dents dis­cuss cur­rent topics of re­search, with a fo­cus on zoon­otic dis­eases. In par­ticu­lar, the im­pacts of global change driv­ers on the ap­pear­ance and distri­bution of these dis­eases is ana­lyzed. Covid-19 is just one of many dis­eases dis­cuss­ed. Nev­erthe­less, the pre­sent pan­demic has ad­vanced the re­search on the biodi­versi­ty - cli­mate change - health nexus and ena­bled the de­velopment of addi­tional politi­cal in­stru­ments and coop­era­tion be­tween stake­hold­ers in this field.

Motivation behind creating the module

The lec­turers, Dr. Thomas and PD Dr. Pfeiffer, view the topic of health in a glob­alized world as a neces­sary addi­tion to the “Global Change Ecol­ogy” cur­ricu­lum, par­ticu­larly since the start of the pan­dem­ic. As a re­searcher in Geoe­cology, Dr. Thomas has worked on vec­tor-born zo­onotic dis­eases and the im­pacts of global change driv­ers on them for the past 10 years. She has been coor­dinat­ing the Elite Grad­uate Pro­gram “Global Change Ecol­ogy”  for the same amount of time. She indi­cates her goal for the new mod­ule when she says, “I want to widen the stu­dent’s hori­zons, and illus­trate how envi­ron­men­tal change can al­ways im­pact hu­man, ani­mal or plant health. I also want to show them inter­link­ages be­tween these issues, as well as possi­ble solu­tions.” PD Dr. Pfeiffer al­ready en­coun­tered the health con­se­quences of hu­man and wild­life inter­ac­tions dur­ing his re­search on Bor­neo 25 years ago. He says, “For tropi­cal re­searchers, the issue of dis­ease is al­ways pre­sent any­way, be­cause you are ex­posed to signif­icant dis­ease risks even while doing re­search - so you can't help but be con­cerned with the sub­ject mat­ter.” How­ever, many of these exotic dis­eases and their vec­tors also reach Ger­many now, due to driv­ers such as cli­mate change and glob­aliza­tion.

Discussion with external experts as Wrap-up

The mod­ule con­clud­ed with a dis­cussion be­tween stu­dents and invit­ed exter­nal ex­perts. The guests in­clud­ed Prof. Set­tele, Head of the De­part­ment of Con­serva­tion Biol­ogy and So­cial-Ecologi­cal Sys­tems at the Helmholtz-Centre for Envi­ron­men­tal Re­search and mem­ber of the Envi­ron­men­tal Ex­pert Panel of the Ger­man gov­ern­ment, and Prof. Nagel, act­ing direc­tor of the insti­tute of medi­cine man­age­ment and health sci­ences (IMG) at the Uni­versi­ty of Bay­reuth and for­mer mem­ber of the Ger­man Ethics Council. Stu­dents had the op­por­tunity to ask ques­tions about the ex­pert’s re­search and opin­ions on cur­rent top­ics, as well as to dis­cuss the knowledge they have gained in the “Bio­diver­sity, Cli­mate Change and Health” mod­ule. The dis­cussion was a suc­cess­ful wrap-up for the popu­lar new mod­ule at the end of the se­mes­ter.

Text: Elina Rittelmann, Elite Graduate Program “Global Change Ecology”