The COVID-19 pandemic has caused global disruption, with the emergence of this and other pandemics having been linked to habitat encroachment and/or wildlife exploitation. High impacts of COVID-19 are apparent in some countries with large tropical peatland areas, some of which are relatively poorly resourced to tackle disease pandemics. Despite this, no previous investigation has considered tropical peatlands in the context of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs). Here, we review: (i) the potential for future EIDs arising from tropical peatlands; (ii) potential threats to tropical peatland conservation and local communities from COVID-19; and (iii) potential steps to help mitigate these risks. We find that high biodiversity in tropical peat-swamp forests, including presence of many potential vertebrate and invertebrate vectors, combined, in places, with high levels of habitat disruption and wildlife harvesting represent suitable conditions for potential zoonotic EID (re-)emergence. Although impossible to predict precisely, we identify numerous potential threats to tropical peatland conservation and local communities from the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes impacts on public health, with the potential for haze pollution from peatland fires to increase COVID-19 susceptibility a noted concern; and on local economies, livelihoods and food security, where impacts will likely be greater in remote communities with limited/no medical facilities that depend heavily on external trade. Research, training, education, conservation and restoration activities are also being affected, particularly those involving physical groupings and international travel, some of which may result in increased habitat encroachment, wildlife harvesting or fire, and may therefore precipitate longer-term negative impacts, including those relating to disease pandemics. We conclude that sustainable management of tropical peatlands and their wildlife is important for mitigating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and reducing the potential for future zoonotic EID emergence and severity, thus strengthening arguments for their conservation and restoration. To support this, we list seven specific recommendations relating to sustainable management of tropical peatlands in the context of COVID-19/disease pandemics, plus mitigating the current impacts of COVID-19 and reducing potential future zoonotic EID risk in these localities. Our discussion and many of the issues raised should also be relevant for non-tropical peatland areas and in relation to other (pandemic-related) sudden socio-economic shocks that may occur in future.


Copyright © 2020 Harrison et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, reproduction and adaptation in any medium and for any purpose provided that it is properly attributed. For attribution, the original author(s), title, publication source (PeerJ) and either DOI or URL of the article must be cited.

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Harrison, M., Wijedasa, L., Cole, L., Cheyne, S., Choiruzzad, S., Chua, L., Dargie, G., Ewango, C., Honorio Coronado, E., Ifo, S., Imron, M., Kopansky, D., Lestarisa, T., O'Reilly, P., Van Offelen, J., Refisch, J., Roucoux, K., Sugardjito, J., Thornton, S., Upton, C. & Page, S. 2020, 'Tropical peatlands and their conservation are important in the context of COVID-19 and potential future (zoonotic) disease pandemics', Biodiversity and Conservation, 8, article no: e10283. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.10283

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Last updated: 08 September 2022
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