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Biodiversity, Endemism, Sense of Place, and Public Health: Inter-relationships for Australian Inland Aquatic Systems


Address correspondence to: Pierre Horwitz, Consortium for Health and Ecology, Edith Cowan University, 100 Joondalup Drive, Joondalup, 6027, Australia; E-mail


ABSTRACT Natural resource managers have articulated “health” narrowly and vaguely as the condition of the biophysical environment. It is too tempting for natural resource managers to take data generated from rapid assessment techniques of biophysical condition (like species richness) as surrogates for “biodiversity.” This paper takes the view that these common applications of the terms “health” and “biodiversity” obscure a meaningful search for the relationships between biodiversity, human health, and the socioeconomic well-being of human communities. Using examples of landscapes and inland waters in Australia, we argue that the biodiversity of inland waters and human health are linked in at least two ways. Biodiversity, and its endemic features, contribute to a person's attachment to a particular place and become part of a person's identity. Loss, destruction, or change in a location has the potential to affect an individual's psychological well-being, and challenge a community's identity and image of itself. Any inland waterway also has the potential to harbor biota that can directly affect the health of humans. We are exposed to this biota when we develop locations inappropriately, when we (mis)treat inland waters, or as a by-product of other land and water developments. Our health may be compromised by attempts to control this biota. And our perceptions of a place may change dramatically according to the presence of these and other organisms, or according to our efforts at their control, as illustrated by cases involving wetlands, mosquitoes, and arboviruses. We conclude by arguing that the health of inland aquatic systems will be best articulated by intertwining biodiversity, endemism, perception of place, environmental (landscape) degradation, disease-causing organisms, and management of the aquatic resource. The health sector and natural resource management agencies are encouraged to recognize the synergies between these issues in their policies and practices.