Researchers reveal parasitic threat to animals and the environment

May 25, 2010

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast have discovered animal populations may often be under a much larger threat from parasites than previously recognised.

It is widely believed that the absence of parasites in species which 'invade' ecosystems gives these 'invaders' an advantage in their new homes (the 'enemy release hypothesis'). But now, researchers from Queen's have discovered quite the opposite, with the presence of parasites in these actually increasing the damage they can do.

The research was carried out by scientists in the School of at Queen's using invasive and native crustacean species from Belfast's River Lagan and Lake Kiltonga in Newtownards.

The first results have been published in Biology Letters, a prestigious Royal Society Journal.

Explaining the significance of the finding, Dr Jaimie Dick from Queen's, Principal Investigator on the project said: "We have uncovered a significant threat from parasites which is lurking in our rivers and lakes, and which could have major implications for across the globe, the environment and the economy.

"It is widely known that 'invaders', those species which become transplanted from their native range, can have a negative impact on local invertebrates and and cause wider . Now, we have made the discovery that the presence of parasites can actually increase, rather than decrease, the damage that these invaders can cause.

"Our experimental approach at Queen's used a fresh water shrimp 'invader' species as a first direct test of theory. We found that this particular invader had more impact on our freshwater animals when it actually harboured parasites, than when it was without them. This has significant implications for previous thinking, that when invaders are free from their parasites they do well in new locations.

"The next vital step for researchers worldwide is to use this information from Queen's to help understand and predict the impacts of invasive species and their parasites. This is a global research priority and if work is not carried out in this area, we could reach a situation where our native species disappear, ecosystem services are affected by issues such as water purification, and we suffer great economic losses. In short, we need to protect biodiversity and reduce the economic impact of invaders."

The next stage of the research will see how the effects of propagate through entire communities, using experiments, surveys, new mathematical models and analysis of isotopes in body tissues that reveal the feeding history of invasive species in our freshwaters.

Explore further: Researchers detail newly discovered deer migration

Provided by Queen's University Belfast

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Freshwater Fish Invasions the Result of Human Activity

Feb 05, 2008

Globally, invasive species represent a major threat to native species. A new paper published this week in the open-access journal PLoS Biology shows that, for rivers and lakes, where these invasions occur ...

SF State scientists expose new threat to spotted owl

May 28, 2008

A new study provides a baseline distribution of blood parasites and strains in Spotted Owls, suggesting a more fragile immune health than previously understood for the already threatened Northern and California Spotted Owls.

Ecologists put price tag on invasive species

Apr 20, 2009

Invasive species can disrupt natural and human-made ecosystems, throwing food webs out of balance and damaging the services they provide to people. Now scientists have begun to put a price tag on this damage. In a study ...

Recommended for you

Researchers detail newly discovered deer migration

1 hour ago

A team of researchers including University of Wyoming scientists has documented the longest migration of mule deer ever recorded, the latest development in an initiative to understand and conserve ungulate ...

How Australia got the hump with one million feral camels

2 hours ago

A new study by a University of Exeter researcher has shed light on how an estimated one million-strong population of wild camels thriving in Australia's remote outback have become reviled as pests and culled ...

Former Iron Curtain still barrier for deer

8 hours ago

The Iron Curtain was traced by an electrified barbed-wire fence that isolated the communist world from the West. It was an impenetrable Cold War barrier—and for some inhabitants of the Czech Republic it ...

Humpback protections downgrade clears way for pipeline

18 hours ago

Environmentalist activists on Tuesday decried Canada's downgrading of humpback whale protections, suggesting the decision was fast-tracked to clear a major hurdle to constructing a pipeline to the Pacific ...

Maine baby lobster decline could end high catches

18 hours ago

Scientists say the number of baby lobsters settling off the rocky coast of Maine continues to steadily decline—possibly foreshadowing an end to the recent record catches that have boosted New England's lobster fishery.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ravens understand the relations among others

Like many social mammals, ravens form different types of social relationships – they may be friends, kin, or partners and they also form strict dominance relations. From a cognitive perspective, understanding ...

How many moons does Venus have?

There are dozens upon dozens of moons in the Solar System, ranging from airless worlds like Earth's Moon to those with an atmosphere (most notably, Saturn's Titan). Jupiter and Saturn have many moons each, ...

Precise control of optical frequency on a chip

In the 1940s, researchers learned how to precisely control the frequency of microwaves, which enabled radio transmission to transition from relatively low-fidelity amplitude modulation (AM) to high-fidelity ...