Climate change is threatening parasites — and unfortunately, that’s not a good thing.
One would think that the demise of ticks and tapeworms would be cause for celebration (especially if your introduction to parasites was, as in my case, an encounter with zombie snails at a mercilessly young age).
But hold the party, say researchers. After studying 457 species of parasites in the Smithsonian Museum’s collection, mapping their global distribution, and applying a range of climate models and future scenarios, scientists predict that at least 5 to 10 percent of those critters would be extinct by 2070 due to climate change–induced habitat loss.
This extinction won’t do any favors to wildlife or humans. If a mass die-off were to occur, surviving parasites would likely invade new areas unpredictably — and that could greatly damage ecosystems. One researcher says parasites facilitate up to 80 percent of the food-web links in ecosystems, thus helping to sustain life (even if they’re also sucking it away).
What could save the parasites and our ecosystems? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “Reduce carbon emissions.”
If emissions go unchecked, parasites could lose 37 percent of their habitats. If we cut carbon quickly, they’d reduce by only 20 percent — meaning the terrifying (but helpful!) parasites creating zombie snails will stay where they are.