The article grew out of a five-year study supported by a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health through the agencies' joint Ecology of Infectious Diseases Program. In addition to Kuris, principal investigators include Kevin Lafferty, a marine ecologist with the United States Geological Survey; and Andrew Dobson, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. Other important collaborators included Leopoldina Aguirre-Macedo, of the Centro de Investigacin y Estudios Avanzados Unidad Mrida, and Mark Torchin, a staff scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
The researchers quantified parasites and free-living organisms in the Carpinteria Salt Marsh and in the Bahia San Quintn and Estero de Punta Banda estuaries in Baja California. Their study included 199 species of free-living animals, 15 species of free-living vascular plants, and 138 species of parasites.
"The reason we wanted to complete this study is because a lot of work we've done has suggested that parasites are important in ecosystems. But no one's actually looked at them as a group throughout an ecosystem," said Lafferty. "Also, no one's considered parasites from the perspective of how much they weigh because it's always been assumed they weigh almost nothing. Now we know that's not true.
"For example, in an estuary there are more kilograms of trematode worms - parasites - than kilograms of birds," he noted. "If you could see the trematodes with binoculars, you might not bother bird watching."
Said Hechinger: "No one debates whether it's important for ensuring human welfare
|Contact: Andrea Estrada|
University of California - Santa Barbara