Jesus Olivero of the Faculty of Sciences in Malaga, Spain — joined forces to investigate patterns of forest loss in areas where Ebola disease outbreaks had been recorded and other sites where no outbreaks had occurred.

“The comparison is remarkable. In the outbreak areas, it’s not just more deforestation, but there is also greater forest fragmentation,” says Olivero.

The scientists point out that as large forest blocks are broken up into smaller fragments, this may become an open invitation for new instances of contact to take place between humans and potential natural carriers, thereby increasing the risk of an outbreak.

Although the possible link between forest loss and zoonotic disease has been suggested before, the findings of the present work provide strong evidence of an association between Ebola outbreak locations and deforestation. The breakthrough in the new study occurred when the team noted a pattern in the timing of deforestation prior to the outbreaks.