Parasites, ecosystems and sustainability: An ecological and complex systems perspective

Document Type

Journal Article




Computing, Health and Science


Natural Sciences, Centre for Ecosystem Management




This article was originally published as: Horwitz, P. , & Wilcox, B. (2005). Parasites, ecosystems and sustainability: An ecological and complex systems perspective. International Journal of Parasitology, 35(7), 725-732. Original article available here


Host–parasite relationships can be conceptualised either narrowly, where the parasite is metabolically dependent on the host, or more broadly, as suggested by an ecological–evolutionary and complex systems perspective. In this view Host–parasite relationships are part of a larger set of ecological and co-evolutionary interdependencies and a complex adaptive system. These interdependencies affect not just the hosts, vectors, parasites, the immediate agents, but also those indirectly or consequentially affected by the relationship. Host–parasite relationships also can be viewed as systems embedded within larger systems represented by ecological communities and ecosystems. So defined, it can be argued that Host–parasite relationships may often benefit their hosts and contribute significantly to the structuring of ecological communities. The broader, complex adaptive system view also contributes to understanding the phenomenon of disease emergence, the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms involved, and the role of parasitology in research and management of ecosystems in light of the apparently growing problem of emerging infectious diseases in wildlife and humans. An expanded set of principles for integrated parasite management is suggested by this perspective. q 2005 Australian Society for Parasitology Inc.