Questions for ‘Some ecologists value parasites — and now want a plan to save them’

a microscopic image showing a human head louse on strands of hair

The human head louse shown here is an ectoparasite, which means it lives on the outside of its host.

Gilles San Martin/Flickr(CC BY-SA 2.0)

To accompany feature “Some ecologists value parasites — and now want a plan to save them


Before Reading:

1.  What are parasites? Name some parasites that you know about. Try to offer a brief description of what they’re known for.

2.  In what way might parasites be useful?

During Reading:

1.  What biological characteristic do all parasites have?

2.  How is climate change endangering some parasites?

3.  Parasites make up what share of all species on the planet?

4.  About how many parasite species do scientists estimate might go extinct by 2070 due to climate change?

5.  What’s one step scientists have taken to help conserve parasite species?

6.  Name some parasites that are harmful to human health.

7.  What roles might parasites play that are important to an ecosystem?

8.  Explain how a parasitic flatworm that invades the brain of a California killifish may be useful to the coastal food web.

9.  We often think of parasites as harmful to their hosts. Why do scientists say that parasite conservation is important to host conservation?

10. Give an example of how a captive-breeding program for an endangered animal backfired and caused a problem for parasites.

After Reading:

1. Why do people feel disgust or fear when they think about parasites?

2.  Scientists and others want to change people’s minds about parasites. Have they convinced you in the arguments they made in the story? If yes, what argument(s) seemed most convincing, and why? If not, which of their arguments were not compelling — and why?

3.  Imagine that a research group offered a $500,000 prize to any individual or group who developed a program that successfully convinced most people that parasites are worth protecting from extinction. Describe the program you enter in this competition.