Kevin Lafferty


My main interest is in how parasites affect ecosystems and, in turn, how ecosystems affect parasites. I am also involved in research on conservation of marine resources investigating strategies for protecting endangered shorebirds, fish and abalone. I have also assessed the effects of marine reserves.

I received my Ph. D. in Ecological Parasitology in 1991 at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and took a post doc with the National Marine Sanctuary and a research position at UCLA. I am presently Marine Ecologist for the USGS at the Channel Islands Field Station. As a UCSB adjunct faculty member, the department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology generously provides for my office and laboratory space in the Marine Lab. I advise graduate students in Marine Ecology, but have no formal teaching assignments.


  • Conservation biology
  • Invasive species ecology
  • Nearshore marine ecology
  • Parasite ecology
  • Wetland ecology


  • Ph.D., Ecology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 1991
  • M.A., Zoology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 1988
  • B.A., Aquatic Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 1985


  • Amercian Society of Parasitologists
  • American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
  • California Botanical Society
  • Ecological Society of America
  • Natural Areas Association
  • Western Society of Naturalists


  • Marine Ecologist, USGS, Western Ecological Science Center, Jul 1998-Present
  • Assistant Adj. Prof., UCSB, Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, Jul 1998-Present
  • Assist. Research Biologist, UCSB Marine Science Institute, Jun 1996-Jul 1998
  • Assist. Research Biologist, UCLA, Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Jun 1994-Jul 1998
  • Assist. Research Biologist, UCSB, Marine Science Institute, Jan 1993-May 1994
  • Post Doctoral Researcher, National Marine Sanctuaries Program, Jan 1992-Dec 1992

Science and Products

Filter Total Items: 3
WERC Wave Energy Project
November 8, 2016

The Santa Barbara Channel area extends from the steep Santa Ynez Mountains on the north to the Channel Islands and adjacent continental shelf on the south and from Point Conception east to the Hueneme submarine canyon. This dynamic landscape, characterized by diverse ecosystems and both urban and rural populations, faces increasing environmental stress due to development, climate change, and natural hazards. The USGS has a long history of work in this area, providing information on a range of coastal-zone-management issues to local, State, and Federal stakeholders.

An underwater photo of a kelp forest.
October 24, 2016

The near shore waters along the coastline of southern California host one of the most productive marine ecosystems on earth: giant kelp forests. These seaweeds provide structure, food, and hiding places for more than 1,000 species of plants and animals. Kelp forests are influenced by both natural events and human activities. Strong storms associated with El Niño years and fluctuating water temperatures can cause dramatic changes in kelp forest communities. Human activities also affect the health and survival of kelp forests through coastal development, sedimentation, pollution, and, in particular, fishing.  Several long-term ecological transects have been established over the years. Each year, the program collects size and abundance data for 70 categories (taxa) of algae, invertebrates and fish that are indicators of ecosystem health. Information from park monitoring, including analyses conducted by Lafferty, was instrumental in establishing marine reserves, areas of the ocean granted complete protection from fishing and extractive activities, at the Channel Islands, placing nearly 20% of Park waters into state marine protected areas.

A photo of Anilocra laticaudata, a parasitic isopod, attached to the gills of a red fish.
October 6, 2016

We are most familiar with parasites due to the infectious diseases they cause in humans and domestic species. In tropical developing countries, for instance, Malaria, Schistosomiasis, and other infectious diseases cause substantial human suffering. Most related research focuses on treating patients. Less is known about how ecology affects transmission. Parasites are major components of biodiversity; they are dominant members of food webs, can control host populations, and can even manipulate hosts in ways that affect ecosystem function. Parasitism is a popular lifestyle, but exactly how popular is hard to tell because parasitologists have not yet looked at most animal species for parasites. Existing information about parasites is often only from one location and rarely applies to all parasite groups. Some authors estimate around half of described species in various animal taxa are parasitic. As environments change, infectious diseases can thrive or dwindle, parasites can cause their hosts to become endangered, and parasites themselves can become endangered. For these reasons, parasites offer interesting insights into the health of their larger ecosystem.


Filter Total Items: 78
Year Published: 2016

The rise and fall of infectious disease in a warmer world

Now-outdated estimates proposed that climate change should have increased the number of people at risk of malaria, yet malaria and several other infectious diseases have declined. Although some diseases have increased as the climate has warmed, evidence for widespread climate-driven disease expansion has not materialized, despite increased research attention. Biological responses to warming...

Lafferty, Kevin D.; Mordecai, Erin A.
Lafferty KD and EA, Mordecai. 2016. The rise and fall of infectious disease in a warmer world [version 1; referees: 2 approved]. F1000 Research, 5(F1000 Faculty Rev):2040. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.8766.1
Year Published: 2016

Revisiting Paine’s 1966 sea star removal experiment, the most-cited empirical article in the American Naturalist

“Food Web Complexity and Species Diversity” (Paine 1966) is the most-cited empirical article published in the American Naturalist. In short, Paine removed predatory sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) from the rocky intertidal and watched the key prey species, mussels (Mytilus californianus), crowd out seven subordinate primary space-holding species. However, because these mussels are a foundational...

Lafferty, Kevin D.; Suchanek, Tom
Lafferty, KD and TH Suchanek. 2016. Revisiting Paine’s 1966 Sea Star Removal Experiment, the Most-Cited Empirical Article in the American Naturalist. The American Naturalist 188(4). doi: 10.1086/688045
Year Published: 2016

Environmental change makes robust ecological networks fragile

Complex ecological networks appear robust to primary extinctions, possibly due to consumers’ tendency to specialize on dependable (available and persistent) resources. However, modifications to the conditions under which the network has evolved might alter resource dependability. Here, we ask whether adaptation to historical conditions can increase community robustness, and whether such...

Strona, Giovanni; Lafferty, Kevin D.
Strona, G and KD Lafferty. 2016. Environmental change makes robust ecological networks fragile. Nature Communications 7: 12462. doi: 10.1038/ncomms12462
Year Published: 2016

Global assessment of schistosomiasis control over the past century shows targeting the snail intermediate host works best

Background Despite control efforts, human schistosomiasis remains prevalent throughout Africa, Asia, and South America. The global schistosomiasis burden has changed little since the new anthelmintic drug, praziquantel, promised widespread control. Methodology We evaluated large-scale schistosomiasis control attempts over the past century and across the globe by identifying factors that predict...

Sokolow, Susanne H.; Wood, Chelsea L.; Jones, Isabel J.; Swartz, Scott J.; Lopez, Melina; Hsieh, Michael H.; Lafferty, Kevin D.; Kuris, Armand M.; Rickards, Chloe; De Leo, Giulio A.
Sokolow SH, CL Wood, IJ Jones, SJ Swartz, M Lopez, MH Hsieh, KD Lafferty, AM Kuris, C Rickards, GA De Leo. 2016. Global Assessment of Schistosomiasis Control Over the Past Century Shows Targeting the Snail Intermediate Host Works Best. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 10 (7): e0004794. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0004794
Year Published: 2016

Intraguild predation by shore crabs affects mortality, behavior, growth, and densities of California horn snails

The California horn snail, Cerithideopsis californica, and the shore crabs, Pachygrapsus crassipesand Hemigrapsus oregonensis, compete for epibenthic microalgae, but the crabs also eat snails. Such intraguild predation is common in nature, despite models predicting instability. Using a series of manipulations and field surveys, we examined intraguild predation from several angles, including the...

Lorda, J.; Hechinger, R.F.; Cooper, S. D.; Kuris, A. M.; Lafferty, Kevin D.
Lorda, J., R. F. Hechinger, S. D. Cooper, A. M. Kuris, and K. D. Lafferty. 2016. Intraguild predation by shore crabs affects mortality, behavior, growth, and densities of California horn snails. Ecosphere 7(5):e01262. doi: 10.1002/ecs2.1262
Year Published: 2016

Complementary approaches to diagnosing marine diseases: a union of the modern and the classic

Linking marine epizootics to a specific aetiology is notoriously difficult. Recent diagnostic successes show that marine disease diagnosis requires both modern, cutting-edge technology (e.g. metagenomics, quantitative real-time PCR) and more classic methods (e.g. transect surveys, histopathology and cell culture). Here, we discuss how this combination of traditional and modern approaches is...

Burge, Colleen A.; Friedman, Carolyn S.; Getchell, Rodman G.; House, Marcia; Lafferty, Kevin D.; Mydlarz, Laura D.; Prager, Katherine C.; Sutherland, Kathryn P.; Renault, Tristan; Kiryu, Ikunari; Vega-Thurber, Rebecca
Burge, CA, CS Friedman, R Getchell, M House, KD Lafferty, LD Mydlarz, KC Prager, KP Sutherland, T Renault, I Kiryu, R Vega-Thurber. 2016. Complementary approaches to diagnosing marine diseases: a union of the modern and the classic. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 371: 20150207. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0207
Year Published: 2016

The role of competition – colonization tradeoffs and spatial heterogeneity in promoting trematode coexistence

Competition – colonization tradeoffs occur in many systems, and theory predicts that they can strongly promote species coexistence. However, there is little empirical evidence that observed competition – colonization tradeoffs are strong enough to maintain diversity in natural systems. This is due in part to a mismatch between theoretical assumptions and biological reality in some systems.

Mordecai, Erin A.; Jaramillo, Alejandra G.; Ashford, Jacob E.; Hechinger, Ryan F.; Lafferty, Kevin D.
Mordecai, EA, AG Jaramillo, JE Ashford, RF Hechinger, KD Lafferty. 2016. The role of competition – colonization tradeoffs and spatial heterogeneity in promoting trematode coexistence. Ecology. doi: 10.1890/15-0753.1
Year Published: 2016

Marine disease impacts, diagnosis, forecasting, management and policy

As Australians were spending millions of dollars in 2014 to remove the coral-eating crown of thorns sea star from the Great Barrier Reef, sea stars started washing up dead for free along North America's Pacific Coast. Because North American sea stars are important and iconic predators in marine communities, locals and marine scientists alike were alarmed by what proved to be the world's most...

Lafferty, Kevin D.; Hofmann, Eileen E.
Lafferty, KD, Hofmann EE. 2016. Marine disease impacts, diagnosis, forecasting, management and policy. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150200.
Year Published: 2016

Fishing diseased abalone to promote yield and conservation

Past theoretical models suggest fishing disease-impacted stocks can reduce parasite transmission, but this is a good management strategy only when the exploitation required to reduce transmission does not overfish the stock. We applied this concept to a red abalone fishery so impacted by an infectious disease (withering syndrome) that stock densities plummeted and managers closed the fishery.

Ben-Horin, Tal; Lafferty, Kevin D.; Bidegain, Gorka; Lenihan, Hunter S.
Ben-Horin, T, KD Lafferty, G Bidegain, HS Lenihan. 2016. Fishing diseased abalone to promote yield and conservation. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150211. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0211
Year Published: 2016

Does biodiversity protect humans against infectious disease? Reply

The dilution effect is the sort of idea that everyone wants to be true. If nature protects humans against infectious disease, imagine the implications: nature's value could be tallied in terms of human suffering avoided. This makes a potent argument for conservation, convincing even to those who would otherwise be disinclined to support conservation initiatives.

Wood, Chelsea L.; Lafferty, Kevin D.; DeLeo, Giulio; Young, Hillary S.; Hudson, Peter J.; Kuris, Armand M.
Wood, CL, KD Lafferty, G DeLeo, HS Young, PJ Hudson, AM Kuris. 2016. Does biodiversity protect humans against infectious disease? Reply. Ecology 97(2): 536-545. doi: 10.1890/15-1503.1
Year Published: 2015

Ontogenetic dynamics of infection with Diphyllobothrium spp. cestodes in sympatric Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus (L.) and brown trout Salmo trutta L.

The trophic niches of Arctic charr and brown trout differ when the species occur in sympatry. Their trophically transmitted parasites are expected to reflect these differences. Here, we investigate how the infections of Diphyllobothrium dendriticum and D. ditremum differ between charr and trout. These tapeworms use copepods as their first intermediate hosts and fish can become infected as second...

Henrickson, Eirik H.; Knudsen, Rune; Kristoffersen, Roar; Kuris, Armand M.; Lafferty, Kevin D.; Siwertsson, Anna; Amundsen, Per-Arne
Henriksen, EH, R Knudsen, R Kristoffersen, AM Kuris, KD Lafferty, A Siwertsson, PA Amundsen. 2015. Ontogenetic dynamics of infection with Diphyllobothrium spp. cestodes in sympatric Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus (L.) and brown trout Salmo trutta L. Hydrobiologia. doi: 10.1007/s10750-015-2589-2
Year Published: 2015

Mapping physiological suitability limits for malaria in Africa under climate change

We mapped current and future temperature suitability for malaria transmission in Africa using a published model that incorporates nonlinear physiological responses to temperature of the mosquito vector Anopheles gambiae and the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. We found that a larger area of Africa currently experiences the ideal temperature for transmission than previously supposed. Under...

Ryan, Sadie J.; McNally, Amy; Johnson, Leah R.; Mordecai, Erin A.; Ben-Horin, Tal; Paaijmans, Krijn P.; Lafferty, Kevin D.
Ryan, SJ, A McNally, LR Johnson, EA Mordecai, T Ben-Horin, K Paaijmans, KD Lafferty. 2015. Mapping Physiological Suitability Limits for Malaria in Africa Under Climate Change. Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases 15(12). doi:10.1089/vbz.2015.1822