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Parasitology. 2007 Jun;134(Pt 6):763-76. Epub 2007 Jan 19.

Are there general laws in parasite ecology?

Author information

  • Department of Zoology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand. robert.poulin@stonebow.otago.ac.nz

Abstract

As a scientific discipline matures, its theoretical underpinnings tend to consolidate around a few general laws that explain a wide range of phenomena, and from which can be derived further testable predictions. It is one of the goals of science to uncover the general principles that produce recurring patterns in nature. Although this has happened in many areas of physics and chemistry, ecology is yet to take this important step. Ecological systems are intrinsically complex, but this does not necessarily mean that everything about them is unpredictable or chaotic. Ecologists, whose grand aim is to understand the interactions that govern the distribution, abundance and diversity of living organisms at different scales, have uncovered several regular patterns, i.e. widely observable statistical tendencies, in the abundance or diversity of organisms in natural ecosystems. Some of these patterns, however, are contingent, i.e. they are only true under particular circumstances; nevertheless, the broad generality of many patterns hints at the existence of universal principles. What about parasite ecology: is it also characterized by recurring patterns and general principles? Evidence for repeatable empirical patterns in parasite ecology is reviewed here, in search of patterns that are consistently detectable across taxa or geographical areas. The coverage ranges from the population level all the way to large-scale patterns of parasite diversity and abundance (or biomass) and patterns in the structure of host-parasite interaction networks. Although general laws seem to apply to these extreme scales of studies, most patterns observed at the intermediate scale, i.e. the parasite community level, appear highly contingent and far from universal. The general laws uncovered to date are proving valuable, as they offer glimpses of the underlying processes shaping parasite ecology and diversity.

PMID:
17234043
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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