Climate change could kill off parasites, destabilizing ecosystems

January 13, 2017 by Brett Israel, University of California - Berkeley
A parasite by the name of Schistorchis stenosoma. Credit: Smithsonian Institution

Photogenic animals, from polar bears to people, aren't the only creatures under threat from global climate change. A new review led by UC Berkeley suggests the phenomenon threatens parasites with extinction, which could have big consequences for ecosystems.

The vast majority of research into and environment change focuses on how hosts, particularly humans, will be harmed. Few studies have addressed how the loss of parasite biodiversity may affect other aspects of host health, ecosystem connectedness and health and biodiversity as a whole. Previous research suggests that parasites are up to 10 times more vulnerable to extinction than are 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. The study 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. 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.

"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 the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. Colin Carlson, a graduate student in the same department, is co-lead author of the review.

The research was published today in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Previous work from this group has called for further research into parasite vulnerability from parasites' perspectives, rather than primarily focusing on hosts, and also outlined ways to potentially conserve parasites. In the new study, the authors outline actionable items for researching the vulnerability of parasites. A forthcoming review from Cizauskas and Carlson attempts to quantify these parasite extinction risks using existing data and modeling.

The team outlines a protocol for identifying vulnerable parasites by a set of key risk factors, including host specificity, parasite life cycle complexity and climatic tolerance. The next step involves identifying important unanswered questions in parasite ecology, such as how host phylogeny predicts parasite extinction, or whether parasite extinctions will be clustered in particular ecosystems. Finally, they suggest proposing how ecological disciplines may be used to identify gaps in parasite research data.

"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 ," Cizauskas said.

Explore further: Common pesticides kill amphibian parasites, study finds

More information: Carrie A. Cizauskas et al. Parasite vulnerability to climate change: an evidence-based functional trait approach, Royal Society Open Science (2017). DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160535

Related Stories

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 ...

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 ...

Do parasites evolve to exploit gender differences in hosts?

February 28, 2012

Some disease-causing parasites are known to favor one sex over the other in their host species, and such differences between the sexes have generally been attributed to differences in immune responses or behavior. But in ...

Recommended for you

Light-based production of drug-discovery molecules

February 18, 2019

Photoelectrochemical (PEC) cells are widely studied for the conversion of solar energy into chemical fuels. They use photocathodes and photoanodes to "split" water into hydrogen and oxygen respectively. PEC cells can work ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2017
When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
2.1 / 5 (11) Jan 13, 2017
The only parasites to die from Climate Change, will be those in the AGW Cult, when all the FAKE "science" is exposed and they are handed that cup of special Kool Aid, by the High Priests, like False "Profit" Al.
2 / 5 (8) Jan 13, 2017
I wonder whether those who are wringing their hands over this know the difference between "parasites" and "symbiotes"?
3.7 / 5 (6) Jan 14, 2017
The only parasites to die from Climate Change, will be those in the AGW Cult, when all the FAKE "science" is exposed and they are handed that cup of special Kool Aid, by the High Priests, like False "Profit" Al.

And monkey is babbling hot air for evidence as usual yes ??

The best definition of desperate is YOU and your monkey socks self exploiting you and your socks which is you and you alone btw on every Science article, the circus continues and youi will be continuously whipped on every single article, and on our whim ;) :D
1 / 5 (5) Jan 14, 2017
"When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."
When the only tool you have is someone else's cliche, what is that?
4 / 5 (8) Jan 14, 2017
I've been labeled a "Climate Denier" because I oppose the Science Deniers and their government/corporate puppet master propagandists.

Follow the money. Climate change has been happening since the beginning of the planet, and the government that can not balance it's checkbook nor do much else right is not going to be able to stop the climate from changing.

But they still will gladly take our money and increase their power over us.
End the Ruse.

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.