By Carl Zimmer
October-December 2008 / Vol. 9 No. 4
- The traditional view of parasites is as pests that decrease the health of ecosystems. What does recent work by ecologists tell us about this interpretation? What are the implications for conservation?
- Regardless of the effect on ecosystems, in some cases parasites are detrimental to the health and well-being of some species, including some threatened and endangered species. Additionally, in some cases the degree of disturbance is correlated with increased parasite load. Can you reconcile this with the information given in the article?
- What do you predict for trends in parasites in ecosystems affected by global change?
Websites for Further Information
- The American Society of Parasitology
- United States Geological Survey—Using Parasites to Monitor Ecosystem Health
Parasites and Ecosystems in the News
- A Troubled Outlook for Parasites (The New York Times, November 15, 2005)
- Parasites’ Impact Goes Beyond Host To Affect Ecosystem (Science Daily, May 15, 2007)
- Parasites And Global Change: Past Patterns, Future Projections (Science Daily Nov. 3, 2008)
Peer-reviewed Literature (in addition to the citations listed in the article)
- Gillespie, T.R., and C.A. Chapman. 2006. Prediction of parasite infection dynamics in primate metapopulations based on attributes of forest fragmentation. Conservation Biology 20:441-448
- May, R.M. 2007. Parasites, people and policy: infectious diseases and the Millenium Development Goals. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 22:497-503.
- Stireman, J.O. III, L. A. Dyer, D. H. Janzen, M. S. Singer, J. T. Lill, R. J. Marquis, R. E. Ricklefs, G. L. Gentry, W. Hallwachs, P. D. Coley, J. A. Barone, H. F. Greeney, H. Connahs, P. Barbosa, H. C. Morais, and I. R. Diniz. 2005. Climatic unpredictability and parasitism of caterpillars: Implications of global warming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102:17384-17387.
• Food webs
• Trophic levels
• Ecosystem health
• Emerging infectious disease