Thursday, November 6, 2014

Let's Pretend

Let's pretend for a moment that you're a small, furry creature. A
Liomys salvini, or spiny pocket mouse, to be exact. You live in Palo
Verde National Park, a tropical dry forest and one of the most
endangered ecosystems in the world. It's late at night, and you're
scuttling around the forest feeling hungry. Suddenly you smell
something appetizing and make your way towards the metallic-looking
box where the scent seems to be originating. Moments later you're
stuck: it's a trap! You don't exactly understand what's going on, but
there's a snack dangling in the corner (peanut butter and corn, to be
exact), so you settle in to wait. Being a mouse, you probably aren't
one for self-reflection, but if you were, now would be a good time for
it. For one, you might consider how the environment in which you live
affects you.

Rodents are really good at surviving in a variety of habitats, even
ones that have been disturbed by humans. You live in a relatively
undisturbed area of Palo Verde, but how would your life by different,
for example, if you lived by the ranger station, where humans are
around all the time? Your home seems like it's a healthier place for
you to live than the alternative, but is it really? And then you might
start thinking about other forms of life. Rodents like you are hosts
to a range of parasites: ticks, nematodes, flukes, you name it. Would
you have more or less of these parasites if you lived by that station?

Fortunately for you, the people who trapped you are interested in that
very question. They are OTS Global Health students, and after
collecting your ecto-parasites and any fecal samples you may have left
behind, they'll send you on your way. They've set up traps in an
undisturbed area, your home, and also the ranger station, and are
going to compare the parasite loads of the rodents from the two areas.

What they'll find out is a bit surprising: you have more parasites,
both in number and types, than your friends from the ranger station.
It seems counterintuitive: an area more disturbed by humans has
healthier rodents. If you will, though, let's expand from your
individual rodent bubble to the environment as a whole. Your home has
more biodiversity-which is indicative of a healthy, complete
ecosystem-than the area that has been disturbed by humans. And that
biodiversity extends to the parasites that you carry with you.


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