Ecosystem health: the relationship between dryland salinity and human health

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Australia is experiencing widespread ecosystem degradation, including dryland salinity, erosion and vegetation loss. Approximately 1 million hectares (5.5%) of the south-west agricultural zone of Western Australia is affected by dryland salinity and is predicted to rise to 5.4 million hectares by 2050. Such degradation is associated with many environmental outcomes that may impact on human health, including a decrease in primary productivity, an increase in the number of invasive species, a decrease in the number of large trees, overall decrease in biodiversity, and an increase in dust production. The resulting degradation affects not only farm production but also farm values. This study examines the effects of such severe and widespread environmental degradation on the physical and mental health of residents. Western Australia has an extensive medical record database which links individual health records for all hospital admissions, cancer cases, births and deaths. For the 15 diseases examined in this project, the study area of the south west of Western Australia (excluding the capital city of Perth) contained 1,570,985 morbidity records and 27,627 mortality records for the 15 diseases examined in a population of approximately 460,000. Environmental data were obtained from the Western Australian Department of Agriculture?s soil and landscape mapping database. A spatial Bayesian framework was used to examine associations between these disease and environmental variables. The Bayesian model detected the confounding variables of socio-economic status and proportion of the population identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. With the inclusion of these confounders in the model, associations were found between environmental degradation (including dryland salinity) and several diseases with known environmentally-mediated triggers, including asthma, ischaemic heart disease, suicide and depression.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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