Trouble with parasites? Just migrate!

May 27, 2016, University of Chicago

Why do animals migrate? Explanations behind the evolution of such a costly, yet common behavior are varied. However, rarely do parasites and pathogens figure into the story. Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Neuchâtel think this is an important oversight, and have worked out the math to prove it.

Animal typically takes place over a huge range of different environments. For example, animals may move from fresh to salt water, cool to hot temperatures or humid to dry climates. The researchers wondered whether these changes in the hosts' internal and external environment might actually help them get rid of their parasites.

This idea isn't as unlikely as it sounds: In the pet and aquaculture industry, fish and crustaceans are commonly dipped in water of different salinities to remove ectoparasites and reduce . Birds, fish and insects are also known to seek out warmer or cooler habitats to help combat infection. Building on this concept, the team developed a model to explore whether so-called "migratory recovery" could, in theory, be a potential benefit of migration. They found that there are biologically realistic conditions under which recovery from pathogens can lead to the evolution of both migration and partial migration. Although parasite loss via changes in the host's internal or external environment have not been explicitly studied in the context of migration, the researchers highlight a number of empirical systems where there is potential for migrants to benefit from losing their parasites. The researchers encourage others to build on their model and not overlook the role that these often inconspicuous creatures have in affecting animal movement!

Explore further: Parasites of endangered animals should be conserved

More information: Allison K. Shaw et al, Migratory Recovery from Infection as a Selective Pressure for the Evolution of Migration, The American Naturalist (2016). DOI: 10.1086/685386

Related Stories

Parasites of endangered animals should be conserved

March 21, 2016

Conservation managers who try to keep members of endangered animal species parasite-free are well-intentioned but this approach is misguided, according to a new research paper co-authored by a zoologist at New Zealand's University ...

Common pesticides kill amphibian parasites, study finds

April 4, 2016

The combined effects of pesticides and parasites threaten wildlife populations worldwide (e.g. amphibians, honeybees). Pesticides are predicted to exacerbate the effects of parasites on their hosts by reducing the host's ...

How wind might impact birds' migration routes

October 19, 2015

For centuries, scientists have been working to unravel the many mysteries of bird migration, studying where birds go, how they find their way, and how much of the information they need is inherited and how much is learned.

Recommended for you

Paleontologists report world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex

March 22, 2019

University of Alberta paleontologists have just reported the world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada. The 13-metre-long T. rex, nicknamed "Scotty," lived in prehistoric Saskatchewan ...

NASA instruments image fireball over Bering Sea

March 22, 2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball—the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area—exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 ...

0 comments

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.