New Danish research collaboration will investigate effects of climate change on snail-borne parasites – University of Copenhagen

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30 January 2017

New Danish research collaboration will investigate effects of climate change on snail-borne parasites

Parasites

A new research platform is going to shed light on how climate change affects the spread of freshwater snails and their parasites. The platform will be based at Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen, and will provide a new framework for researcher to develop cross-disciplinary collaborative projects. The platform is supported by a grant of DKK 2.4 mill from the Danish Knud Højgaards Foundation over the next three years.

Tiny mud snails (Galba truncatula) collected in Dyrehaven animal park, North of Copenhagen. This is the preferred snail host for several parasites, among others the liver fluke, Fasciola hepatica that has increased rapidly in incidence and geographic range in the last decade in several European countries (Photo: A.S. Stensgaard).

The mission of The Research Platform for Disease Ecology, Health and Climate is to integrate and disseminate knowledge across disciplines to enhance the discovery of new solutions to predict and control infections from snail transmitted parasites in humans, livestock and wildlife.

The platform will bring together experts in ecology, human and veterinary parasitology, biostatistics and climate change biology in Denmark and beyond, to develop collaborative research projects on the impact of climate change on snail-borne parasites. 

It was launched in January 2017 in a joint initiative between the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate and the Section for Parasitology and Aquatic Diseases, University of Copenhagen. Head of the platform is Anna-Sofie Stensgaard, assistant professor at the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

Increases in snail-borne parasites could be fueled by global warming

One of the reasons for forming this platform now, is the recently observed increase in the spread and cases of a number of snail-borne parasitic infections in many European countries. An increase suspected to be fueled in part by global warming. Anna-Sofie Stensgaard explains,

”The increases in winter-temperatures in Northern Europe for instance, can lead to higher proliferation and parasite reproduction rates and extend the transmission season. Changing patterns of precipitation could increase the areas suitable for the snail hosts. But climate is just one of many factors influencing the spread of disease, and we know little about the importance of climate relative to other eco-epidemiological factors. So, I am very excited about this new opportunity, where we can begin to mobilize data and expertise from different fields of research to figure out where, and to what extent, these parasites are likely to be problematic in the future”.

Historical snail specimens from the collections at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. The collections can give important clues about the past distributions of parasite-carrying snails (Photo: A.S. Stensgaard).

The initial geographical focus of the platform will be Denmark and Europe. However, the long-term aim is to improve the general methodological framework for predicting impacts of climate change not just for snails and their parasites, but also other climate sensitive, vector-borne diseases. Head of Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Professor Carsten Rahbek, says,

“Today, worldwide, there is an apparent emergence and increase in many infectious diseases. Surprisingly however, we know very little about the main large-scale drivers and processes that shape their current geographies, making qualified predictions about their future patterns difficult. Snail-borne parasites represent a unique model-system with untapped potential to study the combined effects of climate change and species interactions, a topic currently of great general interest in climate change ecology. With the grant from KHF we can now start exploring this potential in more detail"

Read more on the projects webpage

(external link)

Contact

Assistant Professor Anna-Sofie Stensgaard
Mobil:                (+45) 26 29 76 50
e-mail:               asstensgaard@snm.ku.dk