Reducing land use-induced spillover risk by fostering landscape immunity: policy priorities for conservation practitioners

Anthropogenic land use change is the major driver of zoonotic pathogen spillover from wildlife to humans. In response to the global spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the agent of COVID-19 disease), there have been renewed calls for landscape conservation as a disease preventive measure. While protected areas are a vital conservation tool for wildlands, more than 50% of habitable land is now human-modified and thus requires strategic, site-based measures to prevent land use-induced spillover, especially by managing landscape immunity and the dynamics of animal-human proximity. Crisis is a conversation starter for reimagining and recommitting ourselves to what is most vital and generative. Here we provide a brief overview of zoonotic spillover concepts and dynamics from a conservation practitioner perspective and outline a landscape-oriented policy agenda to minimize the risk of future large-scale zoonoses outbreaks. Among other things, we need to recognize human health as a vital ecological service, ensure ecological resilience, and facilitate public investment in biosecurity to sustain economic viability and human well-being. Landscape management approaches to spillover risk reduction are part of a toolkit that includes ecological, veterinary, and medical interventions, disease surveillance, and wildlife trade policy measures.
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