By this point, most of us are hunkering down, doing what we can to come to terms with the coronavirus pandemic. Thinking about nature and preserving nature is not uppermost on most of our minds.

And why should we care about nature and protecting our environment at this time?

Well, according to some experts, we should care because there might be a connection. According to Dr. Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist and the president of EcoHealth Alliance, “Any emerging disease in the last 30 or 40 years has come about as a result of encroachment into wildlands and changes in demography.”

Wow! This is sobering, particularly in light of the coronavirus that is causing dramatic changes in how we all live and work. According to experts such as Daszak, many diseases begin with wildlife and find their way into human populations – the plague and malaria are two examples that made the jump from wild animals to humans.

The current coronavirus is believed to have originated at what is known as a wet market, common in Asia. Wet markets offer live poultry, fish, reptiles and mammals of every kind. Because these animals might live in cages in these markets from days to weeks, optimum conditions are present for the development of disease agents such as influenza and other related diseases.

It is not merely in other cultures. We all make equally questionable decisions. The surge in Lyme disease on our east coast is very much a product of human changes to the environment through the reduction and fragmentation of extensive contiguous forests.

Emerging diseases have quadrupled in the last half-century, experts say, mainly because of increasing human encroachment into the habitat, especially in disease “hot spots” around the globe, mostly in tropical regions. We then bring these diseases to other regions.

The experts tell us the key to forecasting and preventing the next pandemic is by understanding what they call the “protective effects” of nature.

One example is in the Amazon. There is a recent study which showed an increase in deforestation by some 4%, which in turn increased the incidence of malaria by nearly 50%, because mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, thrive in the right mix of sunlight and water in recently deforested areas.

So, what can we conclude from this? Concern for nature is not something just for tree huggers and nature lovers. Humans, as the dominant species, like to think that we have dominion over nature. If that is true, it comes with responsibilities. Failure to act responsibly towards nature can come back to bite us in any number of ways.

John Riolo lives in Moss Creek and is past president of the Nature Club of Moss Creek. john.a.riolo@gmail.com