Beating the heat and parasites in a warming Europe
This post is the second in a series of blogs written by the authors of papers which were presented at the recent Greenhouse Gases & Animal Agriculture Conference held in Dublin. All papers are published in the journal animal.
The climate of Europe has changed markedly over recent decades and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, even under the most modest warming scenarios. Such changes will have direct and indirect effects on farmed animal health and welfare and may be positive e.g. improved pasture growth and extended grazing seasons in North-West Europe, or negative e.g. increased drought and heat stress in Southern Europe.
These changes are not without precedent, many regions of the Southern Hemisphere currently experience climatic conditions similar to those projected for Europe, so we should look to such countries for examples of how to adapt our future farming systems. Such changes will require adaptation of existing housing facilities for livestock and transportation of livestock within and between EU countries. Changes may become enshrined in animal welfare legislation and will require detailed cost-benefit analysis in order to encourage uptake across the industry.
Climatic change also brings change in the risk of exotic, typically vector-borne, livestock diseases such as bluetongue and Schmallenberg viruses, but also to endemic pests and pathogens, which are a major constraint on efficient and sustainable livestock production globally. This is exemplified by the parasitic helminths (or ‘worms’), which are a threat to all grazing livestock on pasture and whose abundance, seasonality and geographic spread within Europe has changed significantly over recent decades. Improved disease surveillance, ideally active rather than passive, will be required in order for us to remain vigilant to the changing threat to our livestock posed by the changing climate. Sophisticated epidemiological modelling studies are being increasingly employed to produce ‘risk maps’ for key livestock pathogens at suitable temporal and spatial scale to help inform future disease control strategies.
Climatic change is only one of many inter-connected drivers which have implications for livestock health and welfare in Europe, other examples include the changing economic climate and imminent changes to the Common Agricultural Policy.
We need to consider all of these changes and the interactions between them to be able to formulate government policy and farm-level strategies to help future-proof the livestock industry in Europe.
Animal health aspects of adaptation to climate change: beating the heat and parasites in a warming Europe
Skuce PJ, Morgan ER, van Dijk J and Mitchell M