An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled, alternative source): Recently, scientists carried out the first large-scale study of what climate change may do to the world’s much-loathed parasites. The team came to a startling conclusion: as many as one in three parasite species may face extinction in the next century. As global warming raises the planet’s temperature, the researchers found, many species will lose territory in which to survive. Some of their hosts will be lost, too. Researchers have begun carefully studying the roles that parasites play. They make up the majority of the biomass in some ecosystems, outweighing predators sharing their environments by a factor of 20 to 1. For decades, scientists who studied food webs drew lines between species — between wildebeest and the grass they grazed on, for example, and between the wildebeest and the lions that ate them. In a major oversight, they didn’t factor in the extent to which parasites feed on hosts. As it turns out, as much as 80 percent of the lines in a given food web are links to parasites. They are big players in the food supply.
Some researchers had already investigated the fate of a few parasite species, but Colin J. Carlson, lead author of the study and a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues wanted to get a global view of the impact of climate change. Some kinds won’t lose much in a warming world, the study found. For instance, thorny-headed worms are likely to be protected because their hosts, fish and birds, are common and widespread. But other types, such as fleas and tapeworms, may not be able to tolerate much change in temperature; many others infect only hosts that are facing extinction, as well. In all, roughly 30 percent of parasitic species could disappear, Mr. Carlson concluded. The impact of climate change will be as great or greater for these species as for any others studied so far. The study has been published in Science Advances.
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