Changing farming methods may help reduce the risk of future infectious disease outbreaks similar to Covid-19, claims a new study writes Gregory Kirby.

Land use changes are disrupting wild animals across the globe, favouring species that carry diseases known to infect humans, a University College London study found.

Places where land is greatly disturbed are increasingly likely to have animals that harbour harmful pathogens.

To combat this, the study, published in the journal Nature, forwards new strategies including strengthening disease surveillance in hotspots undergoing major land disturbance.

They hope that these techniques, particularly if targeted in urban and agricultural areas, may help mitigate the risk of future infectious diseases.

Lead author, PhD candidate Rory Gibb, at the University's Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, said: "The way humans change landscapes across the world, from natural forest to farmland for example, has consistent impacts on many wild animal species, causing some to decline while some others persist or increase.

"Our findings show that the animals that remain in more human-dominated environments are those that are more likely to carry infectious diseases that can make people sick."

The team studied evidence from more than 6,800 ecological communities from six continents.

Data was pooled from a total of 184 studies incorporating close to 7,000 species, 376 of which are known to carry human-shared pathogens.

They found that animals known to carry disease-causing microorganisms which can infect humans were more common in landscapes intensively used by people.

The researchers say we may need to alter how we use land across the world to reduce the risk of future spillovers of infectious diseases.

READ NEXT: Rural workers more at risk of losing jobs from coronavirus, new report finds

Species that host pathogens which can jump from animals to people constituted were more common in human-influenced environments compared to the ecological communities in more wild habitats.

The team also found the same relationship for animals that carry more pathogens of any kind - whether or not they can affect humans.

Wild animal species tend to be more scarce in human-tainted environments compared to natural habitats.

The researchers say this suggests that common factors may influence both whether a species can tolerate humans and how likely it is to carry zoonotic diseases, which can harm humans.

Co-lead author Dr David Redding, from UCL and ZSL Institute of Zoology, said: "Other studies have found that outbreaks of emerging zoonotic infectious diseases appear to be increasingly common - our findings may help to explain that pattern, by clarifying the underlying ecological change processes that are interacting to drive infection risks."

The senior study author Professor Kate Jones suggested the findings should help guide the way people manage agricultural lands.

Professor Jones, also from UCL and ZSL Institute of Zoology, said: "Global land use change is primarily characterised by the conversion of natural landscapes for agriculture, particularly for food production.

"Our findings underscore the need to manage agricultural landscapes to protect the health of local people while also ensuring their food security."

The researchers concede that there are numerous other factors influencing emergent disease risks.

But they still hope their findings point to strategies that could help mitigate the risk of further infectious disease outbreaks similar to COVID-19 - especially as agricultural and urban lands continue to expand.

Professor Jones said: "We should be strengthening disease surveillance and healthcare provision in those areas that are undergoing a lot of land disturbance, as they are increasingly likely to have animals that could be hosting harmful pathogens."

Dr Redding added: "Our findings provide a context for thinking about how to manage land use changes more sustainably, in ways that take into account potential risks not only to biodiversity, but also to human health."