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How Does Climate Change Impact Parasite Biodiversity?

Fewer parasites in US waters may appear to many to be a positive factor. However, Kennesaw State University biologist believes the trend indicates a potential threat to fish and other wildlife.

How Does Climate Change Impact Parasite Biodiversity?
Whitney Preisser. Image Credit: Darnell Wilburn.

According to Whitney Preisser, Assistant Professor of Biology, the decline in parasites is most likely due to changes in water temperature. These changes point to a possible ecological threat that could affect all species. Her findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

If the parasites die off, then we might see impacts to the free-living species, the ones most people want to keep around, as well. This paper hopefully draws attention to an urgent environmental issue.

Whitney Preisser, Assistant Professor, Biology, Kennesaw State University

Preisser specializes in parasitology and disease ecology. She started her career as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington. She proceeded with her research when she joined the KSU College of Science and Mathematics faculty in August 2022, drawing on the work of Professor Emeritus Bill Ensign.

Between the 1990s and 2016, Ensign collected over 2,000 specimens from streams and creeks in Cobb and Paulding counties for research. Preisser is now investigating them to conduct further research on parasites specific to local waterways. The collection includes over 115 different species of fish, providing insight into the health of the waterways.

This study will be bigger than the one I did in Washington, and it will involve freshwater fish, which have slightly different stressors than saltwater fish. I’m looking at how urbanization, changes in water temperature, and pollution are impacting the parasites of these freshwater fish in Georgia.

Whitney Preisser, Assistant Professor, Biology, Kennesaw State University

Besides continuing the research of parasites in Georgia waterways, Preisser has an equivalent idea that uses road-killed animals, such as coyotes, deer, foxes, and squirrels. Since animals reflect their ecosystems, the parasites found in those mammals, she claims, can detail the environment's health.

I want people to recognize the importance of parasites. Even though they may cause some harm to individual animals, their overall effect can be good for the ecosystem. They help control populations, they help drive species biodiversity and they help cycle nutrients.

Whitney Preisser, Assistant Professor, Biology, Kennesaw State University

Preisser teaches parasitology and ecology classes in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, in addition to her investigation on parasites in fish and roadkill. She aims to inspire both undergraduate and graduate investigators intrigued by parasitology.

Preisser concludes, “I feel like Kennesaw State equally values research and teaching. I’m happy to be here because I can have the best of all worlds in that way.”

Journal Reference

Wood, C. L., et al. 2023. A reconstruction of parasite burden reveals one century of climate-associated parasite decline. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2211903120.

Source: https://www.kennesaw.edu

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