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Biodiversity and human health: mechanisms and evidence of the positive health effects of diversity in nature and green spaces.

  • Aerts, Raf1, 2, 3
  • Honnay, Olivier3
  • Van Nieuwenhuyse, An1, 4
  • 1 Department of Chemical and Physical Health Risks, Unit Health Impact Assessment, Sciensano (Belgian Institute of Health), Brussels, Belgium. , (Belgium)
  • 2 Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Division Forest, Nature and Landscape, University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Leuven, Belgium. , (Belgium)
  • 3 Department of Biology, Division Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity Conservation, University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Leuven, Belgium. , (Belgium)
  • 4 Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Division Environment and Health, University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Leuven, Belgium. , (Belgium)
Published Article
British Medical Bulletin
Oxford University Press
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2018
DOI: 10.1093/bmb/ldy021
PMID: 30007287


Natural environments and green spaces provide ecosystem services that enhance human health and well-being. They improve mental health, mitigate allergies and reduce all-cause, respiratory, cardiovascular and cancer mortality. The presence, accessibility, proximity and greenness of green spaces determine the magnitude of their positive health effects, but the role of biodiversity (including species and ecosystem diversity) within green spaces remains underexplored. This review describes mechanisms and evidence of effects of biodiversity in nature and green spaces on human health. We identified studies listed in PubMed and Web of Science using combinations of keywords including 'biodiversity', 'diversity', 'species richness', 'human health', 'mental health' and 'well-being' with no restrictions on the year of publication. Papers were considered for detailed evaluation if they were written in English and reported data on levels of biodiversity and health outcomes. There is evidence for positive associations between species diversity and well-being (psychological and physical) and between ecosystem diversity and immune system regulation. There is a very limited number of studies that relate measured biodiversity to human health. There is more evidence for self-reported psychological well-being than for well-defined clinical outcomes. High species diversity has been associated with both reduced and increased vector-borne disease risk. Biodiversity supports ecosystem services mitigating heat, noise and air pollution, which all mediate the positive health effects of green spaces, but direct and long-term health outcomes of species diversity have been insufficiently studied so far. Additional research and newly developed methods are needed to quantify short- and long-term health effects of exposure to perceived and objectively measured species diversity, including health effects of nature-based solutions and exposure to microbiota.

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