Photogenic animals, from polar bears to people, aren’t the only creatures under threat from global climate change. A new review by CNR researchers suggests that the phenomenon also threatens parasites with extinction, which could have big consequences for ecosystems.
A vast majority of the research into parasites and environmental change focuses on how hosts, particularly humans, will be harmed. But few studies have addressed how the loss of parasite biodiversity may affect ecosystem connectedness, and health and biodiversity as a whole.
Now, research co-authored by postdoctoral researcher Carrie Cizauskas and graduate student Colin Carlson—both in the lab of ESPM professor Wayne Getz—suggests that parasites are as prone to extinction due to climate change as any other organism. The study, which was published January 12 in the journal Royal Society Open Science, predicts that losing parasites could destabilize ecosystems in many ways, such as by increasing more virulent disease, altering the food web, or changing host physiology.
Previous work from these researchers has called for further research into parasite vulnerability from parasites’ perspectives, rather than primarily focusing on hosts, and has also outlined ways to potentially conserve parasites. The new study outlines actionable items for researching the vulnerability of parasites. A forthcoming review from
Cizauskas and Carlson attempts to quantify parasite extinction risks using existing data and modeling.
“Ultimately, our goal is for this review to act as a catalyst for further research efforts and discussions regarding the important and little-addressed topic of parasite vulnerability in the face of climate change,” Cizauskas said.