Forest loss in Africa linked to the occurrence of new Ebola outbreaks

Demonstrated a positive association between Ebola-virus disease outbreaks and deforestation in the African forests during two years after tree-cover removal.

A study has just been published in the journal Scientific Reports in which researchers of the University of Malaga (Animal Biology Department), together with an international and multidisciplinary team, demonstrate a significant link between Ebola-virus disease outbreaks and deforestation in the African forests. This link occurs mostly in close forests located in the regions surrounding the large forest block of central and West Africa; and remains during the two first years after the tree cover has been released.

Although the reasons favouring the occurrence of new Ebola-virus outbreaks in humans remain unknown, some hypotheses point to a increase of contacts between humans and animals, after the habitat has been modified. It is known that the size of fruit-bat populations, main candidates for virus reservoirs in the wild, can increase in forests subject to fragmentation. In addition, after tree cover has been released, human populations whose subsistence depends on hunting need to catch more animals, and often a higher number of species, in order to get the same amount of meat as in close forests. Up to now, there are records of virus transmission events caused by contacts with gorillas, chimpanzees and some forest antelopes; but rodents, little carnivores and other animal groups could also include potential transmitter species of the Ebola virus.

The paper published in Scientific Reports goes a step forward along the way to an early warning system that could anticipate the emergence of new high-risk locations. The current availability of detailed data about where and when forest is lost, together with the ongoing research on outbreak temporal patterns, should facilitate the short-term development of tools for predicting new cases, so allowing decision making soon after an outbreak occurs.


Funding: Project CGL2016-76747-R of the Spanish Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Competitividad and FEDER funds; USAID; UKAID

Link to this news in the UMA website:

Link to the whole article in Scientific Reports:

Repercusion in the press: The Guardian, Thomson Reuters Foundation News, El País, COPE, Diario SUR, Málaga HOY