Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Undisciplined: Save The Parasites

Western Australian Museum

We can’t save every plant and animal that we’ve put into danger. But we know from experience that we can have a big effect on the ones we choose to protect. So, make a list. Which ones do you want to save? Pandas? Elephants? Bald eagles? How about parasites? Yeah… parasites. This week, we’ll be making a case for saving creatures that most people really don’t like.

Ecologists have long lamented that we don’t offer the same efforts on behalf of other life forms. Birds and reptiles and fish and trees just don’t get the same sort of attention. 

An international group of scientists has sounded the alarm about a group of life forms that gets almost no love from the conservation movement. In a recent paper in the journal Biological Conservation, they’ve called for an ambitious conservation plan for parasites.

The authors of the paper say that a lot of parasites are in trouble, and that means we are in trouble, too, because parasites play a hugely important ecological role.

Among the authors of that paper is Skylar Hopkins, an assistant professor of ecology at North Carolina State University who has helped build a plan intended to advance parasite biodiversity conservation. 

Matthew LaPlante has reported on ritual infanticide in Northern Africa, insurgent warfare in the Middle East, the legacy of genocide in Southeast Asia, and gang violence in Central America. But a few years back, something donned on him: Maybe the news doesn't have to be brutally depressing all the time. Today, he balances his continuing work on more heartbreaking subjects by writing books about the intersection of science, human health and society, including the New York Times best-selling Lifespan with geneticist David Sinclair and the Nautilus Award-winning Longevity Plan with cardiologist John Day. His first solo book, Superlative, looks at what scientists are learning by studying organisms that have evolved in record-setting ways, and his is currently at work on another book about embracing the inevitability of human-caused climate change with an optimistic outlook on the future.