According to experts, as more tick-carrying animals migrate north, invasive species are more likely to appear and there is an increase in human-wildlife interactions, which helps diseases spread more quickly. For example, increased contact between people and wildlife, such as ticks, increases the risk of disease transmission.
In Canada, there is a low but not non-existent risk of disease transmission from animals to humans. According to current trends, some scientists predict that as human-animal interaction increases over the coming decades, the rate of emergence of new diseases will triple. This is according to a study published in PNAS by Marani and several colleagues in 2021.
There is a higher risk of these diseases spreading from animals to humans because both native and invasive species often have no choice but to move through densely populated areas in search of new habitats.
According to a recent study in the journal Nature, climate change makes it more likely that those viruses will infect humans and cross the species barrier. In other cases, the chance of known human disease carriers moving to new areas increases, increasing the risk of transmission.
Human and wildlife transmission
(Photo: Marino Linic/Unsplash)
Among the many reasons scientists worry about species spreading into new areas is that many of Canada’s native and invasive species can host and transmit diseases. The majority of Canada, including Ontario, is seeing the same trend, and according to Bouchard, it is likely to continue. In addition, this has led to a significant increase in the number of cases of Lyme disease.
Ticks need to be attached for at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease, and the possibility of transmission increases significantly the longer a tick is fed, according to Catherine Bouchard, a veterinary epidemiologist with the Public Health Agency of Canada. Bouchard is also an assistant professor at the University of Montreal.
In brushy forest areas with leaf litter on the ground, ticks are frequently observed. She continued, saying that although only 20% of ticks carry the bacteria that causes the disease, this number can reach 50% in some areas.
Climate change and habitat change
These ticks are just one species that is shifting its geographic range north as a result of climate change. According to Bouchard, since temperature and precipitation are major factors in climate change, the changing weather we encounter has a definite effect on vector ticks.
When a species is forced to move to new habitats that can support it, it experiences a range shift. These elements have changed habitats around the world due to climate change. As a result, within their historical range, many specialized species have become less frequent or no longer exist.
According to Marie-Josée Fortin, a University of Toronto professor who specializes in ecology and evolutionary biology, climate change is causing conditions to change across the entire ranges of all species, shifting the area where they were once most abundant. Many difficulties are presented by these shifts in scale for individual species, ecosystems, and even human societies.
As a result, the animals must gradually acquire new habitats as they go along. Even for species that can move relatively easily, differences in how each species adapts to new habitats can make range shifts difficult. According to Fortin, species also require resources, food, and other members of their own species to sustain themselves in addition to a suitable climate.
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New environments also bring new species into the competition, including humans. For example, when species from southern Ontario move north to the limits of their range in North America, they encounter an agricultural landscape, which makes it difficult for them to colonize new habitats. They are competing with people for the best habitat in which they can live.
Tys Theysmeyer, Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) Chair of Natural Lands in Hamilton, said climate change is a major topic of discussion even when trying to restore land to its natural state by rehabilitating areas with native species.
On the other hand, range changes may encourage other species to spread rapidly and passively into new ecosystems. As a result of climate change, invasive species, such as the black-crusted tick, often experience range expansion as they gain more suitable habitat than they lose.
Elimination of invasive species is a primary concern for many protected areas. Theysmeyer said that in the current climate, invasive species are usually kept at bay by the cold.
Search networks are used to track and monitor these shifts. In the aftermath of COVID-19, the emergence of disease and vigilance when it comes to the pandemic has gained significant attention in many jurisdictions, as the general public, scientists, and policymakers recognize the risks of being caught by surprise.
It is about letting nature take its course for those who help species affected by range shifts on Earth. Giving trails, channels, or staging points to their natural habitat so they can cross over human-dominated terrain into new habitats is one of the best ways to do this. An initiative to build some trails across the country is being worked on by Parks Canada, Fortin said, CBC reports.
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