FISH 406: Parasite Ecology


Next offering: Autumn 2018

Parasites are ubiquitous: no ecosystem exists without them, and among all of Earth’s species, parasites outnumber non-parasites. But because they are usually small and hidden within their hosts, parasites can be easy to overlook. This course will introduce students to these rarely studied creatures, which span the entire tree of life, occupy all of Earth’s habitats, and influence many ecological processes.

Our material will survey all metazoan parasites, most protozoa, and some bacteria and viruses, addressing their distribution, ecology, and physiological effects on human and wildlife hosts. Because this is an ecology course, we will survey parasite diversity in light of evolutionary diversification. Phylogenetic relationships within and among groups will provide the framework for the course.

Within this phylogenetic framework, the bulk of our time will be spent exploring general disease ecology theory through relatable case studies of individual taxa. We will explore fundamental principles of parasite populations (e.g., SIR models, R0, frequency- and density-dependent transmission) and communities (e.g., co-infection dynamics, host heterogeneity). We will investigate the effects of parasites on host populations (e.g., host population regulation), communities (e.g., parasite-mediated competition), and ecosystems (e.g., nutrient availability). We will strive to put parasites into a food-web context, assessing the impacts of parasites on food webs (e.g., connectance, nestedness, energy flow, biomass, food chain length) and of food webs on parasites (e.g., dilution effect hypothesis, biodiversity-begets-biodiversity hypothesis). Finally, we will use our accumulated knowledge to make predictions for how disease transmission might respond to human impacts like biodiversity loss, climate change, and urbanization and will evaluate the interventions available for wildlife and human disease control (e.g., vaccination, culling, environmental modification, biological control).

Student feedback from official evaluations (Autumn 2017):

Untitled 2“No one really talks about parasites in regular biology courses so everything was new and exciting.”

“I learned so much in this class and absolutely loved it. Chelsea’s lectures are interactive and fun and packed full of great information. She asks questions of us and doesn’t just tell us the information, but encourages us to think critically and come up with solutions.”

“Dr. Wood is such a wonderful educator and this has been one of my favorite classes at SAFS! Her use of anecdotal stories to convey material was the most memorable aspect of this course. The content was utterly fascinating and her delivery made it truly enjoyable.”

“The way that the term paper assignment is structured: turn in first draft, peer review, turn in second draft, prof review, turn in final graded draft, really helps with development of scientific writing skills.”

“I was always sad when the lectures ended. Chelsea is such a wonderful presenter and engages the class so well. I never felt like she uttered an unimportant word.”

“No suggestions- favorite class I have taken at UW.”


Exemplary term projects from Winter 2017:

Ellie Davis (undergrad), “Control of Toxoplasma gondii in Enhydra lutris nereis, the southern sea otter”

Hiromi Katagiri (undergrad), “Augmentation of trematode parasite Euhaplorchis californiensis for conservation of coastal birds in California.”

Laura Spencer (grad), “Proposed measures to minimize the threat of Polydora spp. to Washington State shellfish aquaculture.”


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