Parasitic Complexity (Wired)
For decades, parasites were viewed primarily as pests: something to ignore, perhaps with a sniff of disgust, unless they harmed humans, in which case they were enemies. In recent years, though, scientists have come to appreciate the nuanced, often important roles played by parasites in animal life.
Much of that appreciation involves the relationship between parasites and immune system function, but there’s an ecological angle, too. Witness this computer-modeled food web: When parasites are included in its parameters, it’s revealed as a far more complex system than it appeared without them.
Citation: “Parasites Affect Food Web Structure Primarily through Increased Diversity and Complexity.” By Jennifer A. Dunne, Kevin D. Lafferty, Andrew P. Dobson, Ryan F. Hechinger, Armand M. Kuris, Neo D. Martinez, John P. McLaughlin, Kim N. Mouritsen, Robert Poulin, Karsten Reise, Daniel B. Stouffer, David W. Thieltges, Richard J. Williams, Claus Dieter Zander. PLoS Biology, Vol. 11 No. 6, 11 June 2013