beaver,  literature

Parasite co-reintroduction

I’m happy to report that I have a new article out in the journal Conservation Biology titled “Conservation implications of parasite co-reintroduction” (read it here w/subscription) based on The Return of Native Nordic Fauna project. The idea for the article was spawned by my discovery in 2013 of P.M. Jensen-Tveit selling beaver beetles as part of his business in the 1920s.

Letterhead of P.M. Jensen Tveit. Notes the items he has for sale, including "bæverbiller" (beaver beetles). Original item in Natural History Museum (London) archives.
The letterhead of P.M. Jensen Tveit lists the items he has for sale, including “bæverbiller” (beaver beetles). Original item in Natural History Museum (London) archives.


That discovery led me to research the beaver beetle, what is was, and why it would have been for sale. What was fascinating to me was how the beaver beetle, a parasite that lives on beavers and looks very much like a louse, had basically hitched a ride to recovery–as the European beaver population had shrunk, so had the beetle’s, but as the beaver’s range expanded because of reintroduction, the beetle’s had too.

I thought it was a story interesting enough to publish, but I had difficulty getting a biological conservation journal to publish it. It was too ‘historical’ for their tastes. While I still think the detailed beaver beetle story has appeal (and I hope to find a home for it in a journal more focused on history of science), I decided to do some more research to broaden the story. Instead of being just about the return of the beaver beetle, the article would take on ‘parasite co-reintroduction’ as a larger phenomenon.

The article I’ve published in Conservation Biology is thus a more overarching, synthetic piece (yet as required by word limits of science journals, it is also extremely concise). It assembles all of the known cases I could find of species-specific ectoparasites (that is, parasites that live on the outside of a host and are known to inhabit only one host species) which were either unknowingly reintroduced along with their hosts or became extinct when they were eliminated from hosts that were later reintroduced. People in the past didn’t think about taking care of these parasites–and even today in most reintroduction projects, parasites are thought of only as disease carriers and thus intentionally eliminated.

My take-home message with the article is that these species-specific ectoparasites are worthy of conservation too. I find it incredibly sad that people are willing to invest so much time and money to conserve mega-fauna with photo appeal but yet turn a blind eye to the loss of other parts of our planet’s diversity. These hidden reintroduction possibilities deserve to come out into the open.

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