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Exploring the pathology of an epidermal disease affecting a circum-Antarctic sea star

August 6, 2018

Over the past decade, unusual mortality outbreaks have decimated echinoderm populations over broad geographic regions, raising awareness globally of the importance of investigating such events. Echinoderms are key components of marine benthos for top-down and bottom-up regulations of plants and animals; population declines of these individuals can have significant ecosystem-wide effects. Here we describe the first case study of an outbreak affecting Antarctic echinoderms and consisting of an ulcerative epidermal disease affecting ~10% of the population of the keystone asteroid predator Odontaster validus at Deception Island, Antarctica. This event was first detected in the Austral summer 2012–2013, coinciding with unprecedented high seawater temperatures and increased seismicity. Histological analyses revealed epidermal ulceration, inflammation, and necrosis in diseased animals. Bacterial and fungal alpha diversity was consistently lower and of different composition in lesioned versus unaffected tissues (32.87% and 16.94% shared bacterial and fungal operational taxonomic units OTUs respectively). The microbiome of healthy stars was more consistent across individuals than in diseased specimens suggesting microbial dysbiosis, especially in the lesion fronts. Because these microbes were not associated with tissue damage at the microscopic level, their contribution to the development of epidermal lesions remains unclear. Our study reveals that disease events are reaching echinoderms as far as the polar regions thereby highlighting the need to develop a greater understanding of the microbiology and physiology of marine diseases and ecosystems health, especially in the era of global warming.

Publication Year 2018
Title Exploring the pathology of an epidermal disease affecting a circum-Antarctic sea star
DOI 10.1038/s41598-018-29684-0
Authors Laura Nunez-Pons, Thierry M. Work, Carlos Angulo-Preckler, Juan Moles, Conxita Avila
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Scientific Reports
Index ID 70198460
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center