cal parasite diversity. Recent studies of food webs suggest that ≈75% of the links in food webs involve a parasitic species; these links are vital for regulation of host abundance and potentially for reducing the impact of toxic pollutants. This implies that parasite extinctions may have unforeseen costs that impact the health and abundance of a large number of free-living species.
The year 2008 marks the tercentenary of the birth of Linnaeus, the scientist who first provided a formal classification for biological diversity. In the initial edition of Systema Naturae (Linnaeus, 1735), Linnaeus included a group of species—the Paradoxa—that confounded his classification or whose actual existence he questioned. Pelicans, for example, were placed in Paradoxa because Linnaeus thought they might reflect the over-fervent imaginations of New World explorers. Parasitic worms were also placed in Paradoxa because Linnaeus initially thought that they might be confused, or misplaced, earthworms. In later editions of Systema Naturae, Linnaeus revised his opinions about both pelicans and parasitic worms. We now know much about parasites but still rarely think of them as major components of biodiversity. One primary goal of this chapter is to revise this misconception and quantify the ubiquity of parasitism as a lifestyle. We then attempt to quantify how many parasite species are threatened with extinction.
To quantify the abundance and potential loss rates of parasite biodiversity, we initially need to quantify these measures for their host species. For this we have briefly synthesized the work of May (1988, 1990a), Stork (1993), Purvis and Hector (2000), and Erwin (2004). We then restrict our tally of parasite diversity to parasitic helminths of the vertebrates: trematodes, cestodes, acanthocephalans, and the parasitic nematodes. This tally will synthesize and update an excellent book-length treatment of this question by Poulin and Morand (2000, 2004). Although our approach uses the best available data for the most comprehensively studied groups of parasites and hosts, our attempts to quantify species numbers and extinction rates for parasites still provide underestimates of the true global values of these parameters for several taxonomic and pragmatic reasons: vertebrates are a small component of host diversity, vertebrates are parasitized by a subset of the helminths, and helminths are not the most fully described parasite taxa.
Beginning in 1988, Robert May (1988, 1990a, 1992) cogently argued that our inability to estimate the diversity of species on Earth provided a sad and somewhat self-centered testimony to human inquisitiveness.