One in three animal parasites, one of the most threatened groups of life on Earth, may face extinction by 2070, as a result of global climate change, a study has warned.
The study determined that parasites are even more threatened than the animal hosts they rely on and thus should be included in conversations about conservation.
Loss of parasite, which help control wildlife numbers and keep energy flowing through food chains, could dramatically disrupt ecosystems.
On the other hand, having parasites indicates that the ecosystem has been stable.
“Parasites are definitely going to face major extinction risk in the next 50 years,” said lead author Colin Carlson, graduate student at the University of California – Berkeley.
“They are certainly as threatened as any other animal group,” Carlson added.
In the study, published in the journal Science Advances, the most catastrophic model predicted that more than a third of parasite species worldwide could be lost by 2070, while the most optimistic models predicted a loss of about 10 per cent.
“[Slowing climate change] has a really profound impact on extinction rates, but even in the best-case scenario, we’re still looking at fairly major global changes,” Carlson said.
“Having parasites means the ecosystem has a diversity of animals in it and that conditions have been consistent long enough for these complex associations to develop,” noted Anna J. Phillips, zoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.
For the study, 17 researchers from eight countries tracked geospatial information of 457 parasite species including worms, fleas, lice and others.
Using climate forecasts, the researchers compared these will be impacted by changes in climate under various scenarios.