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Why it’s bad news that parasites are disappearing

The parasite Ascaris lumbricoides

Parasites are disappearing. According to experts, almost a tenth of the parasitic animals that populate our planet are on the way to extinction in the next 50 years. And as much as we think otherwise, this fact should worry us a lot.

Before we go into the reasons why we should care, let’s comment the reasons why they are becoming extinct. And they are already known reasons. First, because species are going extinct, and if a parasite specializes in one species and this species disappears, the parasite also disappears. They are also affected by climate change, due to the loss of habitats, and in many cases, by the eradication campaigns set in motion by humans.

Wow, a compilation of the reasons why species disappear on our planet. And they are still parasites, animals that either prey on others, or even cause disease. It is still difficult to care about them.

The first thing that could be said for arguing against this is a moral issue. Which is the same as that used for any other species: what right do we humans have to extinguish any species. Either directly, such as eradication, or indirectly such as climate change, humans should not extinguish any species.

And it may be a compelling argument, but perhaps not the most interesting. Instead, the role parasites play in ecosystems, something from which we benefit directly even if we are not aware, can convince us more.

Parasitism can be understood, from an ecological point of view, as a form of predation. The difference is that a parasite does not always kill its prey, and if it does, it usually does so little by little.

But in many other respects, parasites and predators are very similar. One of these aspects has to do with control of populations. If we think about it with predators, it is quickly understood: if the predators disappear, the populations of their prey begin to grow. And they can grow a lot. This puts pressure on the species that the dams feed on, which can become extinct, again generating an impact on the ecosystem.

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The same thing happens with parasites. The presence of parasites helps control the populations of the animals they parasite. If the parasite generates disease, the relationship is much more direct and much clearer, or if the parasite kills its prey. But even if it doesn’t, a parasite helps control the population of its hosts, which is its name in ecological terminology.

Y one more factor remains, what we can learn from parasites. An example that is often used is that of leeches, thanks to which a lot was learned about circulation in humans, which were used as medical treatment, and whose anticoagulants – because they are able to feed on blood for long periods of time – have helped to understand how these substances work.

So yes, parasites disappear is very bad news, which should seriously concern us.

I informed myself by reading here

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