Medical benefits of nature


The medical benefits of nature

In a new pan-European project called “Dr. Forest,” scientists are now hoping to find out whether walking through the forest plays a role in how species-rich and diverse it is. Photo: Michael Scherer-Lorenzen

Fresh air and exercise, preferably outdoors in nature, have a positive influence on the health and well-being of people. But is the health-promoting effect in a species-rich mixed forest higher than in a spruce monoculture? In a new pan-European project called “Dr. Forest,” scientists from the fields of ecology, medicine, biology, forestry and psychology, led by Prof. Dr. Michael Scherer-Lorenzen from the University of Freiburg, are now hoping to find out whether walking through the forest plays a role in how species-rich and diverse it is.

Existing research sites in the forests of Germany, Poland, Belgium and France serve as a platform in which researchers from Freiburg and Leipzig are investigating the extent to which the acoustic diversity of birds, frogs or grasshoppers in species-rich forests has an influence on recreation and the reduction of stress for human beings. Scientists from the University of Vienna, Austria, will measure the ozone and levels of airborne fine dust particles along with the microclimate in the forests. In addition, researchers from the University of Warsaw, Poland, will investigate the interrelationship between tree species diversity and the occurrence of medically effective plants and fungi.

In cooperation with colleagues from the INRA research institute in Bordeaux, France, and the University Medical Center in Freiburg, Scherer-Lorenzen also hopes to analyze the relationship between tree species diversity and the frequency of ticks and oak processionary moth in forests. Ticks can transmit diseases such as borreliosis and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), whereas oak processionary moth can cause skin inflammations and attack the mucous membranes.

In order to turn theory into practice, the scientists are working together with various experts from forestry, nature conservation, tourism and the health sector. Specifically, possible recommendations for forest and health management of forests in the vicinity of large urban centers such as Leipzig, Brussels, Belgium, and Bordeaux, France, will be jointly developed and implemented on the basis of three case studies.

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