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Parasites at risk – Insights from an endangered marsupial

Thompson, R.C.A., Lymbery, A.J.ORCID: 0000-0002-0542-3446 and Godfrey, S.S. (2017) Parasites at risk – Insights from an endangered marsupial. Trends in Parasitology, 34 (1). pp. 12-22.

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Parasites are the most abundant form of life on earth and are vital components of ecosystem health. Yet, it is only relatively recently that attention has been given to the risks of extinction that parasites face when their hosts, particularly wildlife, are endangered. In such circumstances, parasites that are host-specific with complicated life cycles are most at risk. Such extinction/coextinction events have been poorly documented, principally because of the difficulties of following such extinction processes in nature. Fortunately, we were presented with the rare opportunity to catalogue an endangered Australian marsupial's parasites; we present our near-complete catalogue here. We incorporate this catalogue into a predictive framework to understand which parasites might be most vulnerable to coextinction, which we hope will serve as a model for endangered hosts and their parasites elsewhere. Half of all known species are parasitic.Parasites are vital components and predictors of ecosystem health.Parasites are particularly vulnerable to extinction given their reliance on a host for their survival and reproduction.Parasite extinction is of particular concern in endangered and threatened wildlife hosts.Host-specific parasites and those with indirect life cycles and density-dependent transmission are most vulnerable. The endangered marsupial, the woylie or brush-tailed bettong, is used to illustrate these points.Parasites are often at greater risk of extinction than their hosts, particularly as a host population declines and density-dependent transmission is compromised.In some cases, parasites may become extinct before their hosts, which may be detrimental to host health if the stability of mixed infections is affected.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier BV
Copyright: © 2017 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
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