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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory

Title: Parasite biodiversity: an Arctic context in a changing world

item Hoberg, Eric

Submitted to: The Circle
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/14/2014
Publication Date: 4/1/2014
Citation: Hoberg, E.P. 2014. Parasite biodiversity: an Arctic context in a changing world. The Circle. World Wildlife Fund, Global Arctic Program. 2014; Vol 2:15-16.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Parasites are among the most common organisms on the planet, abundant and diverse members of all biological communities. Often cryptic, these generally miniscule organisms represent 40-50% of all animals on Earth, inhabiting animal and plant hosts from the equatorial regions to the poles and to the abyssal depths of the oceans. Vertebrate and invertebrate animals support complex assemblages of macroparasites (worms and arthropods) and microparasites (protozoans, fungi, bacteria and viruses) that collectively inhabit every part of their hosts. More than 100 years of field-based explorations across arctic and subarctic latitudes of North Americ and Eurasia estimate that more than 7100 species of helminths (worms) infect fishes, amphibians, birds and mammals. These range from the remarkable meter-long lung nematode (roundworm) of muskoxen in tundra systems of the central Canadian Arctic, Umingmakstrongylus, described for the first time only in 1994, to the nearly microscopic flukes (flatworms) that inhabit intestines of shorebirds and sea ducks around the polar basin of the Arctic Ocean. Parasites are integral parts of a global puzzle that can help us understand why the world looks as it does. They reveal stories about critical connections established by evolutionary history, ecology (food habits, foraging behavior, interactions among host species), and biogeography (patterns of geographic distribution) for host populations, species, ecosystems and regional faunas that constitute the biosphere. They tell us about biological (e.g. range shifts, geographic colonization) and physical (e.g. climate variation, and episodic shifts in climate of the past 3 million years) processes determining the patterns of diversity in the world around us including what we observe today in high latitude ecosystems. This discussion may be of interest to the general public with a biological knowledge, and can serve as an introduction to some aspects of parasites for policy makers, wildlife biologists, conservation biologists in NGO's and governmental agencies nationally and internationally.

Last Modified: 06/27/2017
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