A review led by the University of California, Berkeley, suggests global climate change threatens parasites with extinction, which could have big consequences for ecosystems.
Published Friday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the study found that parasites in hosts with variable internal temperatures, parasites of large-bodied hosts, host-specific parasites and parasites with complex life cycles, will likely be the most vulnerable to extinction due to climate change.
It predicts that losing parasites could destabilize ecosystems in many ways, such as by increasing more virulent disease or by altering the food web or changing host physiology.
"This is the first comprehensive review of how climate change may affect parasite biodiversity, from the point of view of parasite conservation," said Carrie Cizauskas, who led the research as a postdoctoral affiliate in the lab of Wayne Getz, a professor of wildlife ecology in UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.
As the vast majority of research into parasites and environment change focuses on how hosts, particularly humans, will be harmed, previous research suggested that parasites were up to 10 times more vulnerable to extinction than were their hosts.
In the new study, the researchers suggest that parasites are as prone to extinction due to climate change as any other taxonomic group. A forthcoming review from Cizauskas and Colin Carlson, a graduate student in the same department and co-lead author of this review, attempts to quantify these 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 was quoted as saying in a news release.