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Disease Ecology, Biodiversity, and the Latitudinal Gradient in Income

December 28, 2012

Disease Ecology, Biodiversity, and the Latitudinal Gradient in Income

Source: PLoS Biology

While most of the world is thought to be on long-term economic growth paths, more than one-sixth of the world is roughly as poor today as their ancestors were hundreds of years ago. The majority of the extremely poor live in the tropics. The latitudinal gradient in income is highly suggestive of underlying biophysical drivers, of which disease conditions are an especially salient example. However, conclusions have been confounded by the simultaneous causality between income and disease, in addition to potentially spurious relationships. We use a simultaneous equations model to estimate the relative effects of vector-borne and parasitic diseases (VBPDs) and income on each other, controlling for other factors. Our statistical model indicates that VBPDs have systematically affected economic development, evident in contemporary levels of per capita income. The burden of VBDPs is, in turn, determined by underlying ecological conditions. In particular, the model predicts it to rise as biodiversity falls. Through these positive effects on human health, the model thus identifies measurable economic benefits of biodiversity.

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