Once-abundant sea stars imperiled by disease along West Coast

Sunflower Star Imperiled by Sea Star Wasting Epidemic.


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According to a new study conducted by Cornell University in collaboration with the University of California, Davis suggests that The combination of sea warming and an infectious wasting disease has crushed populaces of huge sunflower sea stars once plenteous along the West Coast of North America.

Since 2013, sea star squandering disease has achieved enormous mortality in numerous ocean star species from Mexico to Alaska. The East Coast has not been immune, as the malady has influenced the shores from New Jersey to New England.

Drew Harvell, Cornell professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, a co-lead author said, “At one time plentiful in nearshore waters, the sunflower sea stars right now cannot be found off the California coast and are rare into Alaska. Numbers of the sea stars have stayed so low in the past three years, we consider them endangered in the southern part of their range, and we don’t have data for northern Alaska.”

“Global warming due to a changing atmosphere is likely a major factor. The heat wave in the oceans – a product of increasing atmospheric temperatures – is exacerbating the sea star wasting disease. It’s a lethal disease, and when you add a higher temperature to that, it kills faster, causing a bigger impact.”

“Fisheries depend on nearshore kelp forests to form a healthy environment for fish and the broader oceanic ecosystem. With the demise of sunflower sea stars, sea urchin populations in some areas have exploded, substantially reducing the kelp.”

Diego Montecino-Latorre, a wildlife epidemiologist with the UC Davis One Health Institute and a co-lead author, said, “the sunflower sea star continues to decline even in the deepest ocean and it is not recovering in the same way experienced by the intertidal Ochre star.”

“This is likely because this disease has many hosts, and other species that tolerate the pathogen better may spread it to the sunflower star.”

Joseph Gaydos, senior author on the paper and director of UC Davis’ SeaDoc Society program said, “In California, Washington, and parts of British Columbia, sunflower sea stars keep urchins under control. Without sunflower stars, urchin populations expand and threaten kelp forests and biodiversity. This cascading effect has a really big impact.”

Between in the range of 2006 and 2017, scientists and trained native scientists with Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) led 10,956 meandering jumper reviews from Southern California to Alaska. Prior to 2013, jumpers revealed a wealth of sea stars, yet between 2013 to 2017 the populace collapsed.

Researchers from Simon Fraser University and the Hakai Institute affirmed the misfortune from remote Calvert Island in British Columbia. The ocean warming recorded at REEF locations relates to an expansion in water temperature by up to 4 degrees Celsius that began in 2014.

NOAA scientists reviewed sunflower sea stars in a huge number of profound trawls from Mexico to the Canadian fringe and recorded a 100 percent decrease in all states in profound water down to 1,000 meters.

For this research, “Disease Epidemic and a Marine Heat Wave Are Associated with the Continental-Scale Collapse of a Pivotal Predator (Pycnopodia Helianthoides),” the other partner institutions were Simon Fraser University, Stanford University, Hakai Institute, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.


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