Climate change could have a major influence on animal health, both directly and indirectly, by affecting the parasites and vectors that spread diseases, according to Eric Hoberg, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) zoologist at the agency’s Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Md. Hoberg is chief curator of the U.S. National Parasite Collection.

The Oct. 2009 ARS Healthy Animals newsletter reports that climate change can alter an animal’s relationship with parasites and vectors. These changes can influence where parasites and vectors thrive, making certain geographical regions more or less amenable to them. Climate change can also alter when and for how long parasites and vectors pose a threat to agricultural animals. Climate can determine how pathogens are distributed, transmitted and evolve, and can influence the factors associated with emerging disease and how animals respond to those diseases. Significant environmental changes have been well documented in recent decades, and some of these changes are causing trouble for livestock.

Hoberg is one of many ARS scientists investigating the probable impact of climate changes on agricultural parasites and virus vectors. Their research is generating information that could help producers prepare for and respond to heightened disease threats.

In one study, Hoberg collaborated with several Canadian scientists to investigate the influence of climate change on parasitic lungworms known as Protostrongylus stilesi in Arctic mammals. Although the lungworms had never before been observed in muskoxen, the scientists observed them in muskoxen that share habitat with Dall's sheep. Environmental changes that bring the two animals into contact more frequently could result in larger parasite populations.

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Source: USDA ARS