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When parasites become prey: ecological and epidemiological significance of eating parasites

June 1, 2010

Recent efforts to include parasites in food webs have drawn attention to a previously ignored facet of foraging ecology: parasites commonly function as prey within ecosystems. Because of the high productivity of parasites, their unique nutritional composition and their pathogenicity in hosts, their consumption affects both food-web topology and disease risk in humans and wildlife. Here, we evaluate the ecological, evolutionary and epidemiological significance of feeding on parasites, including concomitant predation, grooming, predation on free-living stages and intraguild predation. Combining empirical data and theoretical models, we show that consumption of parasites is neither rare nor accidental, and that it can sharply affect parasite transmission and food web properties. Broader consideration of predation on parasites will enhance our understanding of disease control, food web structure and energy transfer, and the evolution of complex life cycles.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2010
Title When parasites become prey: ecological and epidemiological significance of eating parasites
DOI 10.1016/j.tree.2010.01.005
Authors Pieter T.J. Johnson, Andrew P. Dobson, Kevin D. Lafferty, David J. Marcogliese, Jane Memmott, Sarah A. Orlofske, Robert Poulin, David W. Thieltges
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Trends in Ecology and Evolution
Series Number
Index ID 70176786
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center