Scientists show respect for some parasites

Jul 12, 2006

U.S. scientists are showing more respect for some parasites that have been found to be surprisingly important in food webs.

Food webs trace the flow of energy through an ecosystem, extending the concept of food chains to biological communities. Food webs rarely include parasites because of the difficulty in quantifying them by standard ecological methods since parasites are small and hidden in their hosts.

However, the study -- conducted by researchers at the University of California-Santa Barbara, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Princeton University -- found parasites strongly affect food web structure and parasite links are necessary for measuring ecosystem stability.

"Food web theory is the framework for modern ecology," said Kevin Lafferty, a USGS scientist based at UC-Santa Barbara and lead author of the study. "Parasites have been missing from this framework and, as a result, we know relatively little about the role of parasites in ecosystems.

"It's like driving with a highway map, but with no knowledge of the smaller road network," he added. "To reach most destinations, you need a map with both."

The research is reported in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

Explore further: Study shows no lead pollution in oilsands region

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

California's sea otter numbers holding steady

Sep 23, 2014

When a sea otter wants to rest, it wraps a piece of kelp around its body to hold itself steady among the rolling waves. Likewise, California's sea otter numbers are holding steady despite many forces pushing ...

Do parasites upset food web theory?

Jun 11, 2013

Parasites comprise a large proportion of the diversity of species in every ecosystem. Despite this, they are rarely included in analyses or models of food webs. If parasites play different roles from other ...

DNA barcodes change our view on how nature is structured

Jan 21, 2014

Understanding who feeds on whom and how often is the basis for understanding how nature is built and works. A new study now suggests that the methods used to depict food webs may have a strong impact on how ...

Study proves that one extinction leads to another

Aug 15, 2012

When a carnivore becomes extinct, other predatory species could soon follow, according to new research. Scientists have previously put forward this theory, but a University of Exeter team has now carried ...

Recommended for you

Study shows no lead pollution in oilsands region

9 minutes ago

New research from a world-renowned soil and water expert at the University of Alberta reveals that there's no atmospheric lead pollution in Alberta's oilsands region—a finding that contradicts current scientific ...

User comments : 0