Climate change might cause one-third of all parasites to go extinct by the year 2070, scientists say. And while this may not seem like such a bad thing, parasites are an important part of the Earth’s ecosystem, so their dying out would disrupt the natural balance of things.
As a whole, parasites don’t have a good reputation, but a new study finds that their place in the ecosystem is vital, Tech Times reports. And now, they are some of the world’s most threatened life forms because of climate change.
The study was completed with help from the U.S. National Parasite Collection, along with specialized information on fleas, ticks, bee mites and feather mites. Seventeen researchers across eight countries spent years hunting down various parasite specimens in order to better understand their habitats, needs and current situations.
Researchers used climate forecasts to determine how 457 parasite species might react to the drastic changes in the Earth’s climate, and found that they are even more threatened than their hosts.
Models show that from the effects of habitat loss alone, a third of the species could be extinct by 2070.
Parasites contribute to keeping wildlife populations in check, providing a huge percentage of links in the food chain. Many parasites have a network of life cycles that require them to pass from one host to another, hence strong populations of parasites are often markers of a healthy ecosystem.
Anna J. Phillips of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History said, “It means the system has a diversity of animals in it and that conditions have been consistent long enough for these complex associations to develop.” A wide range of parasites also means that there is more competition among them, slowing down the spread of diseases.
Because of their bad reputation, parasites are often overlooked or ignored in climate change studies. Now, scientists can take a better look at the implications of their demise. Colin Carlson from the University of California Berkeley, lead author of the study, said, “Climate change will make some parasites extinct and make some do better. But we would argue the overall phenomenon is dangerous, because extinctions and invasions go hand in hand.”
The study was published in the journal Science Advances.