“Parasites are thought of as free-loaders, but many contribute as much as they take,” - “They service the ecosystem. From an ecological perspective, they are more like tiny, hidden architects that are overlooked by most people.” - “Some parasites do have a negative impact on an ecosystem, especially when they are introduced to a new and unfamiliar environment.” (source)
The parasite a cricket’s nightmares are made of
"But the very act of forcing crickets to their watery grave actually functions as a kind of fast food delivery service for the fish living in those streams. Cricket do not normally jump into streams and a drowning cricket is usually a rare treat for any fish. But thanks to the hairworm, these fish get to feast regularly on these large insects and it has been calculated that this straight-to-your-stream food delivery service accounts for more than half of the trout population’s energy intake in some watersheds."
Watch this creepy but very kool video below here of what happens when the cricket is forced by it's parasitic hitchhiker to jump into water and drown itself.
|Credit: Tommy Leung|
(source) When microbes cause ants to become zombies
"Usually the enemy of an enemy is a friend, but that is of no consequence for a zombified ant. To these fungi the ant is but a stage upon which they play out their lives and conflicts, as they have been doing for millions of years."
Can you imagine the possibilities in dealing a blow to the out of control Argentine Ant Super Colony over-population of California and other areas of the west ? BTW, Mycologist Paul Stamets has brought this up before.
|Photo: Andrew DunnEuropean Mistletoe (Viscum album) attached to a |
silver birch (Betula pendula)
"Plant parasites can also affect ecosystem processes. While most people associate mistletoe with Christmas, it is actually a parasitic plant that has special root-like structures called haustoria that burrow into the host tree to suck out water and other nutrients. But for all that it draws from the host, this parasite returns it to the ecosystem in the form of enriched leaf litter."
"A study published in the Proceeding of the Royal Society B shows that when mistletoes are removed from a forest, more than a quarter of the birds species also disappear. The enriched leaf litter allows the forest to support a richer community of insects, which in turn bring in more birds."
I previously wrote about Mistletoe on January 3, 2013, but so did many other people. It was the same link above, but it was worth bringing up the subject again as a great reminder.
New Zealand Cockle (Austrovenus stutchburyi)
|Credit: Tommy Leung|
Grassopper of Acrididae family: Anacridium aegyptium
"Scientists have known for some time that P. locustae infections in individual locusts leads to less swarming in locusts around them. What was not known was how it happened."
"The researchers are still puzzled as to why P. locustae would "want" to cause less swarming, as doing so would seem to lead to more difficulty in spreading from one of the insects to another." (No Kidding, why ????)
|Credit: Vittorio Baglione|
A carrion Crow brood parasitized by a great spotted Cuckoo
"Most everyone knows that cuckoo birds are the ultimate free-loaders. Mothers lay their eggs in the nests of birds of different species, leaving them to raise their young for them. What many may not realize however, is that different kinds of cuckoo birds behave differently when they hatch. Some famously push all the other eggs out of the nest, leaving themselves as the sole survivor and beneficiary. Other's however, don't do that, instead, they leave the other chicks alone and share in food the mother brings, acting as an adopted sibling, of sorts. At first glance it would appear that the host birds gain no benefit from this arrangement, but upon closer inspection, that assumption has been proved wrong."
"The researchers in Spain were studying the relationship between cuckoos and host carrion crows. In so doing, they were surprised to find that survival rates for crow chicks in nests shared by a cuckoo, were actually higher than for cuckoo-less nests. Looking even closer they discovered that the cuckoos had a survival mechanism that crows did not—they gave off a stink when threatened that caused predators such as feral cats to stay away. The stink, the researchers found, was caused by a chemical mix of repulsive compounds that included indoles, acids, sulfur and phenols. Taken together it proved too much for cats and birds of prey which typically find chicks in a nest easy pickings when the mother is away gathering food."
The major sad thing here is that in most of the television documentaries (where the majority of people get their science education) which reference the Cuckoo or Cow Bird as a parasite that robs and steals from others, we almost never see this side of the story.
|Wasp parasitizing Gypsy Moth|
|"Survival of the Fittest"|
"What troubles us is that biology's metaphorical abstractions all too easily become concrete objects and substitute for specific, describable processes. Maximal diversity becomes evolution's telos instead of its tendency. Biogeographical frontiers become prescriptive and enforceable, rather than descriptive and conceptual. Seasonal “disturbances” such as floods interrupt normal ecological processes, instead of exemplifying them. Biological “productivity” and “diversity” become not only measurable, but virtuous."
Matt Chew's & Manfred Laubichler's essay provides many excellent metaphor examples like; ecology speaks of predator and prey, but these suggest one is good and the other evil. Hence we have Wolf versus Elk, Mountain Lion versus Big Horn Sheep, etc. You may also remember that metaphors have been used for describing the signalling and machinery that are used in cell biology, as well as being used to explain what goes on within DNA such as “coding” and "development". But for me personally, I find that bad metaphors associated with parasites have hindered us from viewing them in a way that helps us to better understand their roles in the Natural World. In conclusion, Chew & Laubichler warned:
"Perhaps we cannot avoid metaphors altogether in scientific language. But scientists must be aware of the potential problems inherent in invoking the familiar as a convenient way for describing their ideas. At the very least, we should be concerned about what the frequent use of “natural enemies” (and the notable absence of “natural allies,” describing an equally familiar set of ecological interactions) reveals about the ways in which we interpret nature through metaphorical lenses, especially in the current historical situation."
BTW, Matthew Chew has an updated version from 2011 called, The Rise and Fall of Biotic Nativeness: a Historical Perspective
So what really is this Goldilocks Principle ?
Well, we've all heard of the classic fairytale 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' which tells us the story of a young fair golden haired Girl who wanders into a strange house in the woods. She finds one bowl of porridge too hot, another too cold and the third just right. Many Scientists sometimes apply the tale to a planet's ability to sustain life as we know it. In our own star system for example, Venus is too hot and Mars is too cold, but Earth is just right. But there's far more here on the Earth itself which is loaded with the Goldilocks Principles. Hence even the subject of parasites. These ideas haven't always been very popular, because it smacks of fine-tuning and the Earth being special and unique among other known planets and so forth. Broadly speaking, the Goldilocks Principle applies to any situation where only a particular range of conditions is acceptable or agreeable for a healthy ecosystem. The Earth's ability to perfectly recycle and maintain itself is now seriously being called into question. Here was an interesting read from just last week on this very subject:
Goldilocks principle: Earth's continued habitability due to geologic cycles that act as climate control
So Parasites, Ecology & the Goldilocks Principle ?
File under: "Religion & other Metaphysics"