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Parasites lost: using natural history collections to track disease change across deep time
- Harmon, Alaina, Littlewood, D Tim J, Wood, Chelsea L
- Frontiers in ecology and the environment 2019 v.17 no.3 pp. 157-166
- DNA, amber, ecosystems, feces, fossils, hosts, infectious diseases, natural history, parasites, sediments, wildlife, wildlife diseases
- Recent decades have brought countless outbreaks of infectious disease among wildlife. These events appear to be increasing in frequency and magnitude, but to objectively evaluate whether ecosystems are experiencing rising rates of disease, scientists require historical data on disease abundance. Specimens held in natural history collections represent a chronological archive of life on Earth and may, in many cases, be the only available source of data on historical disease patterns. It is possible to extract information on past disease rates by studying trace fossils (indirect fossilized evidence of an organism's presence or activity, including coprolites or feces), sequencing ancient DNA of parasites, and examining sediment samples, mummified remains, study skins (preserved animal skins prepared by taxidermy for research purposes), liquid‐preserved hosts, and hosts preserved in amber. Such use of natural history collections could expand scientific understanding of parasite responses to environmental change across deep time (that is, over the past several centuries), facilitating the development of baselines for managing contemporary wildlife disease.