Parasites possess a remarkable range of traits that have important consequences for their ecology and distribution. These traits, including various life histories and behaviors, have evolved as strategies to locate available hosts, survive and disperse among hosts, reproduce, and persist. Some parasites are highly specific to a single host species, while others are generalists and can use many species as hosts. Parasites can have complex life cycles, in which the adult parasite occupies a single host (often a vertebrate) and immature stages require one or multiple invertebrates, or they can have simple life cycles with direct transmission within one host species. Parasites can also have a profound range of effects on hosts and the surrounding communities, which can vary by geographic location and local environmental conditions. Every aspect of parasite biology and ecology affects the abundance, habitat distribution, and biogeography of parasite species.
Scientists at SERC take a multidisciplinary approach to parasite ecology research across a diverse range of ecosystems, from trees and plants in forests to invertebrates and fish in coastal ecosystems. Our approach combines biodiversity surveys and experiments with molecular and evolutionary ecology to gain a broad understanding of host-parasite interactions across spatial, temporal, and taxonomic scales.