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The Ecology of Parasite-Host Interactions at Montezuma Well National Monument, Arizona - Appreciating the Importance of Parasites

December 8, 2009

Although parasites play important ecological roles through the direct interactions they have with their hosts, historically that fact has been underappreciated. Today, scientists have a growing appreciation of the scope of such impacts. Parasites have been reported to dominate food webs, alter predator-prey relationships, act as ecosystem engineers, and alter community structure. In spite of this growing awareness in the scientific community, parasites are still often neglected in the consideration of the management and conservation of resources and ecosystems. Given that at least half of the organisms on earth are probably parasitic, it should be evident that the ecological functions of parasites warrant greater attention.

In this report, we explore different aspects of parasite-host relationships found at a desert spring pond within Montezuma Well National Monument, Arizona. In three separate but related chapters, we explore interactions between a novel amphipod host and two parasites. First, we identify how host behavior responds to this association and how this association affects interactions with both invertebrate non-host predators and a vertebrate host predator. Second, we look at the human dimension, investigating how human recreation can indirectly affect patterns of disease by altering patterns of vertebrate host space use. Finally - because parasites and diseases are of increasing importance in the management of wildlife species, especially those that are imperiled or of management concern - the third chapter argues that research would benefit from increased attention to the statistical analysis of wildlife disease studies. This report also explores issues of statistical parasitology, providing information that may better inform those designing research projects and analyzing data from studies of wildlife disease.

In investigating the nature of parasite-host interactions, the role that relationships play in ecological communities, and how human activities alter these associations, scientists usually make inferences by methods of statistical hypotheses testing. This type of hypothesis testing places additional importance on the analysis and interpretation of parasite-host interactions. We address these ideas in this report, focusing on the following questions: (1) How do two parasites with complex life cycles alter the behavior of a novel amphipod host, and how do host and non-host predators respond to infected amphipod prey? (2) Does human recreation affect spatial patterns of infection in an otherwise natural ecosystem? (3) How is hypothesis-testing applied in studies of wildlife disease? (4) What conclusions can we make about the relative usefulness of these methodologies? and (5) How can the analysis and interpretation of wildlife disease studies be improved? Each chapter of this report contains its own literature-cited section, with tables included in appendixes at the end of the full report.

Publication Year 2009
Title The Ecology of Parasite-Host Interactions at Montezuma Well National Monument, Arizona - Appreciating the Importance of Parasites
DOI 10.3133/ofr20091261
Authors Chris O'Brien, Charles van Riper
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2009-1261
Index ID ofr20091261
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center