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Ecological and Systematic Parasitology

These exciting areas of parasitology are rooted in the study of the evolution of parasites and their interactions with the environment provided by their hosts. These basic areas of inquiry often lead to breakthoughs in applied areas of parasitology with direct or indirect benefits to man.

With our increasing awareness that human activities cause significant environmental destruction and extinction of species, biodiversity studies have recently assumed a new importance. Major efforts are underway globally to conduct floristic and faunistic surveys and document the distribution of species. Because the number of species of parasites exceeds the number of species of free-living plants and animals, it is clear that biodiversity research will require the talents and efforts of parasitologists. The field of parasite taxonomy and systematics currently shows a resurgence of activity because of new methods that have recently been incorporated into the discipline. Techniques developed by molecular biologists have been applied to questions regarding relationships among taxonomic groups of parasites and are providing powerful new insights. The study of ecological aspects of host/parasite relationships has benefited greatly from the use of computer technology to vastly increase the ability of parasitologists to quantify and analyze the dynamics of parasite populations. The tools of molecular biology are also being assimilated into the field of ecological parasitology and the promise of new discoveries regarding parasite life cycles, detection and identification of parasites, patterns of parasite transmission, and colonization are extremely exciting.

Applications of basic research in parasite systematics and are likely to be forthcoming and will provide career opportunities for parasitologists. Geographic information systems will assist ecologists in understanding large scale patterns of parasite distribution. A vital future consideration will be the assessment of the potential that global warming will have on the redistribution of parasites on our planet. One ominous implication of global warming is the possibility that medically important parasites that today are considered to cause "tropical diseases" will spread into temperate regions as the climate warms. Ecological parasitologists will have an opportunity to apply basic principles of parasite distribution and colonization to assist medical parasitologists in assessing the potential role of global warming in the field of public health.

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