Polar Diseases and Parasites: A Conservation Paradigm Shift

  • Susan J. Kutz


Parasites are essential and dynamic components of global biodiversity. They are drivers for genetic diversity and play an important role in host population dynamics, in inter- and intraspecific interactions, and in wildlife conservation. At high intensities or in naive hosts, they can cause disease and have population-level impacts. Some parasites of wildlife, zoonotic parasites, are also known to infect people and have negative health and socioeconomic consequences. Parasites reflect environmental integrity and provide insight into community composition, interaction, and food web dynamics. Current host–parasite assemblages reflect the complexity of historical and contemporary processes. Shifting environmental conditions, domestic animal encroachment, and range expansions of wildlife or vectors can lead to parasite invasions with consequences for the health of endemic hosts and the biodiversity of parasites. Parasites are influenced by climate, both incremental (long-term) and more ephemeral (extreme) events. They can exploit favorable weather conditions to greatly augment their transmission potential. Interactions between climate and parasites can lead to explosive outbreaks of disease or parasite range expansions, with subsequent cascading effects on host population dynamics and ecosystems. Importantly, parasites add new dimensions to protected area planning and animal introductions and translocations. In polar and alpine regions, life history patterns of parasites are strongly adapted for transmission and dissemination in highly seasonal, extreme environments characterized by low host species diversity. Parasites are important components of biodiversity in these regions, linking hosts to the ecosystem through numerous interactions. In this chapter I use muskoxen and their parasites as an example to illustrate the importance of understanding existing parasite biodiversity, ecology, and host–parasite interactions in the Arctic and as a foundation to address modern conservation issues.


Definitive Host Parasite Community Parasite Fauna Parasite Interaction Arctic Ecosystem 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Thank you to Eric Hoberg and Lydden Polley for numerous interesting discussions on these matters and for insightful comments on an earlier version of this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary MedicineUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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