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Warming sea surface temperatures fuel summer epidemics of eelgrass wasting disease

November 25, 2021

Seawater temperatures are increasing, with many unquantified impacts on marine diseases. While prolonged temperature stress can accelerate host-pathogen interactions, the outcomes in nature are poorly quantified. We monitored eelgrass wasting disease (EWD) from 2013-2017 and correlated mid-summer prevalence of EWD with remotely sensed seawater temperature metrics before, during, and after the 2015-2016 marine heatwave in the northeast Pacific, the longest marine heatwave in recent history. Eelgrass shoot density declined by 60% between 2013 and 2015 and did not recover. EWD prevalence ranged from 5-70% in 2013 and increased to 60-90% by 2017. EWD severity approximately doubled each year between 2015 and 2017. EWD prevalence was positively correlated with warmer temperature for the month prior to sampling while EWD severity was negatively correlated with warming prior to sampling. This complex result may be mediated by leaf growth; bigger leaves may be more likely to be diseased, but may also grow faster than lesions, resulting in lower severity. Regional stressors leading to population declines prior to or early in the heatwave may have exacerbated the effects of warming on eelgrass disease susceptibility and reduced the resilience of this critical species.

Publication Year 2021
Title Warming sea surface temperatures fuel summer epidemics of eelgrass wasting disease
DOI 10.3354/meps13902
Authors Maya Groner, Morgan E. Eisenlord, Reyn M. Yoshioka, Evan A. Fiorenza, Phoebe D. Dawkins, Olivia J. Graham, Miranda Winningham, Alex Vompe, Natalie D. Rivlin, Bo Yang, Colleen A. Burge, Brendan Rappazzo, Carla P. Gomes, C. Drew Harvell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Marine Ecology Progress Series
Index ID 70225606
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center