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: 3Qs: Game theory and global climate talks

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

3Qs: Game theory and global climate talks

Nov 21, 2014

Last week, China and the United States announced an ambitious climate agreement aimed at reducing carbon emissions in both countries, a pledge that marks the first time that China has agreed to stop its growing emissions. ...

From hurricanes to drought, LatAm's volatile climate

Nov 21, 2014

Sixteen years ago, Teodoro Acuna Zavala lost nearly everything when Hurricane Mitch ravaged his fields, pouring 10 days of torrential rains on Central America and killing more than 9,000 people.

Nicaragua: Studies say canal impact to be minimal

Nov 20, 2014

Officials said Thursday that studies have determined a $40 billion inter-oceanic canal across Nicaragua will have minimal impact on the environment and society, and construction is to begin next month.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.