Parasite-Host Findings Aid Knowledge of Temperature Impacts

The Takeaway: Research reserve data from seven states contributed to one of the first U.S. studies to quantify how temperature-parasite interactions affect the survival of both parasites and their hosts.

If scientists want to understand how organisms respond to warming temperatures, they must also understand how parasite infection could tip the organism’s odds of survival. University of Georgia researchers published one of the first U.S. studies quantifying how temperature-parasite interactions affect the survival of both parasite and host. Their models will be used to explore how future climate warming will influence parasite transmission on the Georgia coast and elsewhere. This study—of flatback mud crabs and a common parasite infecting them—used temperature data collected by Georgia’s Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve and six additional research reserves in Atlantic-coast states.

Study authors represented the University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology, College of Veterinary Medicine, and Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases.

Mud crabs are common along much of the Eastern Seaboard and Texas Gulf Coast. The parasite studied, a type of barnacle, spans the Atlantic coast from Florida to Long Island Sound, and its swimming larvae are constantly seeking new, uninfected crabs to invade. The scientists’ research and mathematical models uncovered the following findings:

  • A rise of one degree Celsius shows a drop in parasite-infection rates
  • A rise of two degrees Celsius shows a complete, local die-off of this parasite—its mud-crab hosts cannot survive at the higher temperature
  • Warming is unlikely to cause northern migration of the parasite
  • Even so, there is a risk of greater transmission in the northern locations studied—which roughly span Wilmington, North Carolina, to Toms River, New Jersey—because, as temperatures rise, more weeks each year will favor parasite transmission

The many years of water temperature data used in this study came from research reserves in seven states: Georgia’s Sapelo Island, South Carolina’s ACE Basin, Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, Florida’s Guana Tolomato Matanzas, New Jersey’s Jacques Cousteau, Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, and the North Carolina Research Reserves. (2018)

More Information: UGA Today

Partners: The University of Georgia’s Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases, College of Veterinary Medicine, Odum School of Ecology, and Skidaway Institute of Oceanography