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U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009-1261

In cooperation with the University of Arizona

The Ecology of Parasite-Host Interactions at Montezuma Well National Monument, Arizona—Appreciating the Importance of Parasites

By Chris O’Brien and Charles van Riper III


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Although parasites play important ecological roles through the direct interactions they have with their hosts, historically that fact has been underappreciated. Today, scientists have a growing appreciation of the scope of such impacts. Parasites have been reported to dominate food webs, alter predator-prey relationships, act as ecosystem engineers, and alter community structure. In spite of this growing awareness in the scientific community, parasites are still often neglected in the consideration of the management and conservation of resources and ecosystems. Given that at least half of the organisms on earth are probably parasitic, it should be evident that the ecological functions of parasites warrant greater attention.

In this report, we explore different aspects of parasite-host relationships found at a desert spring pond within Montezuma Well National Monument, Arizona. In three separate but related chapters, we explore interactions between a novel amphipod host and two parasites. First, we identify how host behavior responds to this association and how this association affects interactions with both invertebrate non-host predators and a vertebrate host predator. Second, we look at the human dimension, investigating how human recreation can indirectly affect patterns of disease by altering patterns of vertebrate host space use. Finally—because parasites and diseases are of increasing importance in the management of wildlife species, especially those that are imperiled or of management concern—the third chapter argues that research would benefit from increased attention to the statistical analysis of wildlife disease studies. This report also explores issues of statistical parasitology, providing information that may better inform those designing research projects and analyzing data from studies of wildlife disease.

In investigating the nature of parasite-host interactions, the role that relationships play in ecological communities, and how human activities alter these associations, scientists usually make inferences by methods of statistical hypotheses testing. This type of hypothesis testing places additional importance on the analysis and interpretation of parasite-host interactions. We address these ideas in this report, focusing on the following questions: (1) How do two parasites with complex life cycles alter the behavior of a novel amphipod host, and how do host and non-host predators respond to infected amphipod prey? (2) Does human recreation affect spatial patterns of infection in an otherwise natural ecosystem? (3) How is hypothesis-testing applied in studies of wildlife disease? (4) What conclusions can we make about the relative usefulness of these methodologies? and (5) How can the analysis and interpretation of wildlife disease studies be improved? Each chapter of this report contains its own literature-cited section, with tables included in appendixes at the end of the full report.

Last modified December 7, 2009
First posted November 25, 2009

  • This report is available only on the Web.

For additional information contact:
SBSC Staff, Southwest Biological Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
2255 N. Gemini Drive
Flagstaff, AZ 86001

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Suggested citation:

O'Brien, Chris, and van Riper III, Charles, 2009, The ecology of parasite-host interactions at Montezuma Well National Monument, Arizona; appreciating the importance of parasites: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009-1261, 56 p.



References Cited

Chapter 1: Parasites in a Novel Host: Implications for Parasite-Induced Trophic Transmission

Chapter 2: The Influence of Human Visitor Activity on Spatial Patterns of Parasite Infection

Chapter 3: Making Better-informed Decisions in the Analysis of Wildlife Diseases: Hypothesis Testing, Power Analysis, and Estimating Observed Effects


Three Appendixes

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