Natural (dis) Order

‘Viruses have deep evolutionary roots in the cellular world’

(Morens and Fauci)

One of the off shoots of the Covid lockdown was waking up to a riot of birdsong. Without the competition of air and road traffic, there was a joyous, avian sonic take over. The sky seemed bluer; the trees, day by day, became ever more verdant. Fish swam in the canals of Venice.  As humanity locked down en masse, the natural world took a much-needed breather from the bombardment of human activity.

Since the beginning of 2020, the world’s population has been subjected to various restrictions and stages of lockdown. We are living in a time of pandemic, the like of which hasn’t been seen since 1918. Although infectious diseases have been prevalent among the human population for thousands of years, the emergence of novel pathogens is accelerating. Most are zoonotic in character, that is, these pathogens are mutating from wild animals to humans. Morens et al* state that ‘deforestation, agricultural intensification, urbanization and ecosystem disruption’ are the catalysts for the rising incidence of pandemics. Increased globalization and human activity/behaviour enable these viruses to spread quickly and expansively.

The virosphere is comprised of millions of microbes such as fungi, bacteria and protists, as well as viruses. As natural ecosystems become increasingly stressed, these microbes overspill into the wider world. In the past few weeks there have been various outbreaks of Sars-CoV-2 type viruses. In Denmark, the virus was detected in mink farms, resulting in millions of animals being culled in several countries, including Ireland. Other countries have now committed to phase out the mink farming industry over the next few years. A wild swan found dead at Lough Beg, County Derry, has been identified as carrying the avian influenza virus. In Great Britain, free range hens and other farm birds will have to be housed inside from the 14th of December under new legislation that will attempt to limit the spread of the virus.

As winter sets in, I replenish the seeds and nuts in my birdfeeders and hang them back up. The natural order is under threat. The planets ecosystem is sick. As humans, we must nurse it back to health.

*D Morens & Daszak P, Markel H, Tauberger K ‘Pandemic COVID-19 Joins History’s Pandemic Legion’, in mBio (May/June 2020)