Win-win solutions to protect human health and conserve ecosystems

A far-reaching review of academic papers and reports evaluated 46 proposed “win-win” solutions for reducing human infectious disease burdens and advancing conservation goals, which now can be explored on a publicly available website. The study highlights diverse and widespread bright spots where there could be opportunities to simultaneously safeguard human and ecosystem health.

Nearly 30 researchers from across the United States and overseas conducted the study, which appears in The Lancet Planetary Health. The interdisciplinary team included academic researchers, practitioners at government and nonprofit organizations, and veterinarians.

Skylar Hopkins, an assistant professor of applied ecology at NC State and corresponding author of the study, said the interdisciplinary group worked on this synthesis for four years. They painstakingly searched the existing academic literature for potential solutions and then developed a new process for determining whether a specific “win-win” solution is safe, feasible and cost-effective. They found that the solutions have varied levels of evidence for success; some have strong support already and others are ripe for further study.

“We like to think of these solutions like options on a bespoke menu. To select and design a solution that meets your needs, you’re going to need a lot of information. So we provide an evidence summary for each solution,” Hopkins said. “We also created a decision process that anyone can follow, so researchers and decision makers can design their own solutions or evaluate whether an existing solution will work in their situation.”

But Hopkins said that it wasn’t easy to evaluate some of the potential solutions.

“Sometimes the evidence for a potential solution conflicted,” Hopkins said. “One study would suggest that an intervention would reduce human disease burdens and another study would suggest that the same intervention would increase human disease burdens. Potential solutions could also have trade-offs or collateral impacts, where the intervention was good for some people but not others.” The team had to develop a method for quantifying evidence diversity, consistency and applicability to deal with these complications.

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