Research Shows Biodiversity Can Help Suppress Human Pathogens

Research published in the Journal of Applied Ecology indicates that dung beetles and soil bacteria can help suppress harmful pathogens on the farm before they spread to humans. In a quest to comply with food safety regulations, many farmers are removing natural habitat to discourage wildlife and livestock visits that can introduce pathogens. However, this research showed that biodiversity can contribute to pathogen reduction. The study found that activity by one species of dung beetle in particular reduced E. coli numbers by more than 90%. Field testing with pig feces found more species of dung beetles active on organic farms than conventional farms. “We found that organic farms generally fostered dung beetle species that removed the feces more rapidly than was seen on conventional farms,” said Professor William Snyder of Washington State University. Furthermore, organic farms also had a higher diversity of soil bacteria, which also decreased the survival of pathogens. “Wildlife and livestock are often seen as something that endanger food safety, but our research shows that reducing on-farm biodiversity might be totally counterproductive,” research leader Matthew Jones concluded.