New Reports Link Climate Change to Exotic Diseases, Threats to Everglades Plants and Wildlife

Here's more news of the good things in store for South Florida if present climate change trends continue. Not.

See also: Dengue Fever Cases in Florida Confirmed

That dengue fever you heard about? The creepy disease also known as "breakbone fever" and that is normally confined to places along the equator? Expect more of that and similar insect-borne diseases. And the Everglades, formerly known as the "River of Grass"? Expect a greatly shrunken version, with mere tokens of the rich range of wildlife it once housed.

Dengue fever had disappeared from Florida and the rest of the continental U.S. in the 1930s, reemerging in Florida four years ago, with a spike this summer. That could be just a foretaste, though.

The U.N. had warned in 2006 of dengue's spread in the Americas. And in a recent issue of the journal Science, researchers from the University of Georgia and elsewhere warned of dengue, Lyme disease, and malaria as examples of shifting distributions of disease.

Noting that "Climate-induced shifts in phenology and species movements will likely affect disease dynamics," they wrote, "Many species are already moving toward higher elevations or latitudes."

Cautiously, they wrote that worldwide total incidence of such illnesses might not rise but that:

Surveillance programs capable of detecting pathogen or disease emergence are essential and, in many instances, predicting and detecting local-scale impacts might be more important than predicting global-scale changes.

The consequences of sea level rise (climate change's BFF) have been widely noted and are the focus of a conference at FAU's Fort Lauderdale campus starting tomorrow. New data from researchers at the University of Miami points out the consequences for the Everglades: Wildlife habitats are threatened.

That news appeared in a paper in the scientific journal Wetlands, the result of years of study by UM Geography prof Douglas Fuller and graduate student Yu Wang, who have been using satellite imagery to map changes in the distribution of plant life in our region.

As a UM news release summarized it: "These communities provide critical habitats to many wildlife species, and as salt water intrudes, it could spell problems for freshwater plants and animals alike."

Coincidentally or not, Fuller's expertise also includes medical geography, and he's done a good deal of work about the spread of tropical disease in Costa Rica. As climate change proceeds, his travel budget may shrink.

Sea Level Rise Summit 2013 October 16-17 The Conference Center 301 E. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.

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