Category: Gut Health, Health Magazine

Title:Save the Parasites?

close up of ticks

Pinworms, head lice, and leeches, oh my! Have the little critters gotten a bum rap? For generations, Western society has sought to reduce the debilitating impact of parasites in human and animal health. Should we embrace them as part of our rich biodiverse family? How much do we even understand their role?

Colin Carlson, PhD, assistant research professor with the Center for Global Health Science & Security at Georgetown, joined a team of scientists
from multiple countries and institutions to call for conservation of the largely unclassified varieties of parasite species. The working group suggests that parasites are the hidden heroes of ecosystem stability, wildlife population control, and nutrient cycling.

Parasites are threatened not only by the changing climate or habitat loss, but also by extinctions of their hosts, making them highly vulnerable to extinction. A recent study estimated that one in every three parasite species might be at risk of extinction in the next 50 years. Yet it is estimated that less than 10 percent of parasites have been adequately described or even named by the science community, a number that the group proposes to bring up to 50 percent in their global parasite conservation effort. The plan appeared August 1, 2020, in a Biological Conservation special issue: “Parasite Conservation in a Changing World.”

The plan outlines 12 goals focused on data collection and synthesis, risk assessment and prioritization, conservation practice, outreach, and education. Developing an inventory of the world’s diverse community of parasites is an important first step.

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