Science Note: Tapeworms and Climate Change
Air Date: Week of February 3, 2012
Stickleback fish with a large tapeworm. (Photo: Solveig Schjorring)
Global warming will affect one of the smallest, wriggliest creatures – tapeworms. Raphaella Bennin reports.
GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. Just ahead, two stories – new woods for high end guitars and forget the hills, it's the trees that are alive with the sound of music. But first, this Note on Emerging Science from Raphaella Benin.
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BENNIN: There’s at least one species that may thrive on our warming planet: that’s the tapeworm that spends most of its life inside the stickleback fish.
The worms are a common parasite found all over the northern hemisphere; they live mostly in oceans and lakes. The temperature of these waters is usually comfortable for both the worms and their host fish, but researchers at the University of Leicester in England were curious how the creatures’ relationship might change as global warming heats up the planet.
The scientists put fish infected with the tapeworms in two seperate tanks: one heated to the water temperature of an average British summer's day -- 15 degrees Celsius -- and another five degrees warmer. The worms in the hotter waters grew faster and larger, and were ready to produce their eggs sooner. But the fish didn’t fare as well. Their growth was stunted and their reproductive abilities damaged. And even though they were suffering, the sickly stickleback fish sought out warmer spots in the tanks. And the worms not only appeared to fill the bodies of the fish but control their behaviors, too.
This study is among the first to look into the possible effects of climate change on the relationships between parasites and hosts. And while the future seems hot and bleak for some animals, including the stickleback fish, the tapeworms are looking forward to their day in the sun. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Raphaella Bennin.
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