Infectious disease is listed among the top five causes of global species extinctions. However, the majority of available data supporting this contention is largely anecdotal. We used the IUCN Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species and literature indexed in the ISI Web of Science to assess the role of infectious disease in global species loss. Infectious disease was listed as a contributing factor in <4% of species extinctions known to have occurred since 1500 (833 plants and animals) and as contributing to a species' status as critically endangered in <8% of cases (2852 critically endangered plants and animals). Although infectious diseases appear to play a minor role in global species loss, our findings underscore two important limitations in the available evidence: uncertainty surrounding the threats to species survival and a temporal bias in the data. Several initiatives could help overcome these obstacles, including rigorous scientific tests to determine which infectious diseases present a significant threat at the species level, recognition of the limitations associated with the lack of baseline data for the role of infectious disease in species extinctions, combining data with theory to discern the circumstances under which infectious disease is most likely to serve as an agent of extinction, and improving surveillance programs for the detection of infectious disease. An evidence-based understanding of the role of infectious disease in species extinction and endangerment will help prioritize conservation initiatives and protect global biodiversity.
- Digital Object Identifier: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00524.x
- Source: USGS Publications Warehouse (indexId: 70190533)