A butterfly flaps its wings: Extinction of biological experience and the origins of allergy

Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2020 Nov;125(5):528-534. doi: 10.1016/j.anai.2020.05.025. Epub 2020 May 29.


Objective: To explore links between biodiversity on all scales and allergic disease as a measure of immune dysregulation.

Data sources: PubMed and Web of Science were searched using the keywords biodiversity, nature relatedness, allergic disease, microbiome, noncommunicable diseases, coronavirus disease 2019, and associated terms.

Study selections: Studies were selected based on relevance to human health and biodiversity.

Results: Contact with natural environments enriches the human microbiome, promotes regulated immune responses, and protects against allergy and both acute and chronic inflammatory disorders. These important links to ecopsychological constructs of the extinction of experience, which indicates that loss of direct, personal contact with biodiversity (wildlife and the more visible elements of the natural world), might lead to emotional apathy and irresponsible behaviors toward the environment.

Conclusion: The immune system is a useful early barometer of environmental effects and, by means of the microbiome, is a measure of the way in which our current experiences differ from our ancestral past. Although we would benefit from further research, efforts to increase direct, personal contact with biodiversity have clear benefits for multiple aspects of physical and mental health, the skin and gut microbiome, immune function, food choices, sleep, and physical activity and promote environmental responsibility.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allergens / administration & dosage
  • Allergens / immunology*
  • Betacoronavirus / immunology
  • Betacoronavirus / pathogenicity
  • Biodiversity
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / genetics
  • Coronavirus Infections / immunology
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Disease Susceptibility / immunology*
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / immunology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / virology
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / genetics
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Hypersensitivity / microbiology
  • Hypersensitivity / prevention & control*
  • Immune System / drug effects
  • Microbiota / immunology*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / genetics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / immunology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Skin / immunology
  • Skin / microbiology
  • Skin / virology


  • Allergens