Navigation Links
Do parasites upset food web theory?
Date:6/12/2013

Parasites comprise a large proportion of the diversity of species in every ecosystem. Despite this, they are rarely included in analyses or models of food webs. If parasites play different roles from other predators and prey, however, their inclusion could fundamentally alter our understanding of how food webs are organized. In a paper published 11 June in the open access journal PLOS Biology, Santa Fe Institute Professor Jennifer Dunne and her team test this assertion and show that including parasites does alter the structure of food webs, but that most changes occur because of an increase in diversity and complexity, rather than from unique characteristics of parasites.

"Current food web models and theory were developed with data for free-living species," said Dunne. "We wanted to understand whether including parasites alters network structure in unique ways, or if observed changes are consistent with the addition of any types of species and links to a food web."

The group of researchers, which included parasitologists and food web ecologists, analyzed highly resolved datasets for seven coastal estuary and marine food webs. They compared three versions of each food web dataset: webs without parasites; webs that included parasites and all of their links to other species; and an intermediate case that included parasites but excluded the "concomitant" links between a predator and the parasites of its prey.

The team found that including parasites altered many aspects of network structure, such as the distribution of feeding links per species, the average shortest feeding chain between pairs of species, and the proportion of species that are omnivores or cannibals. But a closer look suggested that most of these changes were generic effects of increasing the overall diversity and complexity of the network, rather than unique effects attributable to the parasites' roles in food webs.

"Our analyses show that in many ways parasites are similar to other species in terms of their effects on food web organization," said Dunne. However, the team did find two cases where parasites seem to play special roles that alter aspects of food web structure. One case is when a parasite is eaten along with its host. "The physical intimacy between a parasite and its host is not found as frequently between free-living predators and prey," Dunne said. "The fact that predators incidentally feed on the parasites of their prey can alter certain patterns of interactions among species."

The other case appears to result from the complex life cycles of many of the parasites in these food webs. Parasites can shift hosts in a dramatic fashion, for example by starting out with a cricket as a host, but later requiring a fish host. This results in a more structurally complex feeding niche than is seen for most free-living predators.

"Our research extends the generality of food web theory and provides a more rigorous framework for assessing the impact of any species on trophic organization," said Dunne. "However, it also reveals limitations of current food web models when they are applied to the more diverse and highly resolved data that researchers are increasingly compiling."


'/>"/>

Contact: Bryan Ghosh
bghosh@plos.org
44-122-344-2837
Public Library of Science
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Weakness can be an advantage in surviving deadly parasites, a new study shows
2. Scientists find Achilles heel in life-threatening malaria parasites
3. T cells hunt parasites like animal predators seek prey, a Penn Vet-Penn Physics study reveals
4. Elsevier launches International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife
5. Single-cell parasites co-opt ready-made genes from host: UBC research
6. Belgian scientists develop way to detect superparasites
7. Parasites of Madagascars lemurs expanding with climate change
8. Young malaria parasites refuse to take their medicine, may explain emerging drug resistance
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:6/3/2016)... LONDON , June 3, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... Transport Management) von Nepal ... ,Angebot und Lieferung hochsicherer geprägter Kennzeichen, einschließlich ... weltweit führend in der Produktion und Implementierung ... an der Ausschreibung im Januar teilgenommen, aber ...
(Date:6/2/2016)... June 2, 2016 Perimeter Surveillance ... Unmanned Systems, Physical Infrastructure, Support & Other Service  ... visiongain offers comprehensive analysis of the global ... will generate revenues of $17.98 billion in 2016. ... Inc, a leader in software and hardware technologies for ...
(Date:5/20/2016)... 20, 2016  VoiceIt is excited to announce ... By working together, VoiceIt and VoicePass ... and VoicePass take slightly different approaches to voice ... security and usability. ... new partnership. "This marketing and technology ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... SILVER SPRING, Md. , June 23, 2016 ... evidence collected from the crime scene to track the criminal ... sick, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses ... Sound far-fetched? It,s not. ... whole genome sequencing to support investigations of foodborne illnesses. Put ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 2016  The Biodesign Challenge (BDC), a university competition ... harness living systems and biotechnology, announced its winning teams ... New York City . The ... projects at MoMA,s Celeste Bartos Theater during the daylong ... senior curator of architecture and design, and Suzanne ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... , ... In a new case report published today in STEM CELLS Translational ... lymphedema after being treated for breast cancer benefitted from an injection of stem cells ... this debilitating, frequent side effect of cancer treatment. , Lymphedema refers to ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... YORK , June 23, 2016 ... trading session at 4,833.32, down 0.22%; the Dow Jones Industrial ... S&P 500 closed at 2,085.45, down 0.17%. Stock-Callers.com has initiated ... INFI ), Nektar Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NKTR ), ... Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: BIND ). Learn more about ...
Breaking Biology Technology: