Predicting climate responses of parasites and hosts

A study from Canada uses GBIF-mediated data to predict climate-related shifts in the distribution of a parasitic worm affecting North American mammal species.

Data resources used via GBIF : 4500 occurrence records used
White-tailed deer. Credit: USDA photo by Scott Bauer. Public domain.

White-tailed deer. Credit: USDA photo by Scott Bauer. Public domain.

This study emphasized the need to develop combined models for climate responses from multiple species, to understand the likely future impacts of harmful parasites.

The research looked at a parasitic worm which causes severe neurological damage to moose, elk, caribou, domestic sheep and goats. The worm is spread through white-tailed deer, which it does not harm, but also depends on a number of snail and slug species during other parts of its life-cycle.

To predict future occurrence of the worm under different climate scenarios, the researchers took an ‘ensemble approach’, modelling areas of suitability for both types of host as well as for the parasite itself. Data for white-tailed deer and the mollusc hosts were accessed through GBIF. The study concluded that the parasite was likely to decline in the Great Plains and southeastern United States, but increase in northern forest areas especially in Alberta, Canada.

Pickles, R.S.A. et al., 2013. Predicting shifts in parasite distribution with climate change: A multi-trophic level approach. Global change biology. Available at: