Ectoparasites and Climate Change: How Global Warming Affects Their Distribution

Ectoparasites Climate

What are the economic implications of changes in the distribution of ectoparasites?

This post pertains to the topic of global warming, ectoparasites, and how it affects their distribution and health.

Ectoparasites And Climate Change

Global warming, aka climate change, is one of the most pressing issues facing the planet today. Unfortunately, while humans are responsible for much of the drastic changes to our planet’s atmosphere, other animals are being impacted by the rising temperatures as well. One group that is seeing a unique disruption due to climate change is ectoparasites.

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What are Ectoparasites?

Ectoparasites are organisms such as fleas, mites, and ticks, that live on the outside of their host organism. They are often parasites, feeding off of the blood of their hosts, but can also function as mutualists, providing a beneficial service in return for their residence. Many of the ectoparasites of higher animals are pests, such as the fleas and ticks which can carry diseases like lyme.

How Does Global Warming Impact Ectoparasites?

Global warming has a direct, and indirect impact on ectoparasites. The most direct is the change in temperature itself, which impacts the development rates and behavior of ectoparasites. The indirect impacts come from the disruption of the delicate balance between a parasitic organism and its host. As the climate shifts, so do the shifts in available food, suitable breeding sites, and the availability of a host.

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For example, the shifting climate in some parts of the world has allowed different ectoparasites to spread to different areas. The Lone Star tick, which is native to the southern United States, has been steadily moving up the east coast as temperatures rise. This spreading of ectoparasites can have a negative impact on the native species, as non-native parasites can cause local populations of ectoparasites to outcompete the native species, straining the local environment.

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Health Impacts of Climate Change On Ectoparasites

The increase of temperature can also have an impact on the health of ectoparasites. Higher temperatures may allow the ectoparasites to reach various stages of development faster, allowing them to reproduce at a higher rate. More reproduction means more parasites and thus more potential for disease spread.

Conclusion

Ectoparasites, though often overlooked, can be greatly impacted by climate change. Through direct and indirect factors, global warming is causing many ectoparasites to spread to new areas, and can make it easier for them to spread diseases. Protecting ectoparasites, and therefore their hosts, is another important factor in slowing the effects of climate change.