The impact of dryland salinity on Ross River virus in south-western Australia: an ecosystem health perspective

Andrew Jardine

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] A functional ecosystem is increasingly being recognised as a requirement for health and well being of resident human populations. Clearing of native vegetation for agriculture has left 1.047 million hectares of south-west Western Australia affected by a severe form of environmental degradation, dryland salinity, characterised by secondary soil salinisation and waterlogging. This area may expand by a further 1.7-3.4 million hectares if current trends continue. Ecosystems in saline affected regions display many of the classic characteristics of Ecosystem Distress Syndrome (EDS). One outcome of EDS that has not yet been investigated in relation to dryland salinity is adverse human health implications. This thesis focuses on one such potential adverse health outcome: increased incidence of Ross River virus (RRV), the most common mosquito-borne disease in Australia. Spatial analysis of RRV notifications did not reveal a significant association with dryland salinity. To overcome inherent limitations with notification data, serological RRV antibody prevalence was also investigated, and again no significant association with dryland salinity was detected. However, the spatial scale imposed limited the sensitivity of both studies. ... This thesis represents the first attempt to prospectively investigate the influence of secondary soil salinity on mosquito-borne disease by combining entomological, environmental and epidemiological data. The evidence collected indicates that RRV disease incidence is not currently a significant population health priority in areas affected by dryland salinity despite the dominant presence of Ae. camptorhynchus. Potential limiting factors include; local climatic impact on the seasonal mosquito population dynamics; vertebrate host distribution and feeding behaviour of Ae. camptorhynchus; and the scarce and uneven human population distribution across the region. However, the potential for increased disease risk in dryland salinity affected areas to become apparent in the future cannot be discounted, particularly in light of the increasing extent predicted to develop over coming decades before any benefits of amelioration strategies are observed. Finally, it is important to note that both dryland salinity and salinity induced by irrigation are important forms of environmental degradation in arid and semi-arid worldwide, with a total population of over 400 million people. Potential health risks will of course vary widely across different regions depending on a range of factors specific to the local region and the complex interactions between them. It is therefore not possible to make broad generalisations. The need is highlighted for similar research in other regions and it is contended that an ecosystem health framework provides the necessary basis for such investigations.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2007

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