Is Climate Change Increasing Sea Star Wasting Disease?

Written by on August 18, 2015 in Marine Life

Remember that horrible mass sea star die-off that started in 2013? The one that infected over 20 species and left dead, decaying starfish strewn across the seafloor from California to Vancouver? It was called Sea Star Wasting Disease and it took nearly a year for researchers to identify the cause. It turns out it was the result of a virus, Sea Star Associated Densovirus (SSaDV), but scientists weren’t positive what caused it to reach epidemic levels.

Sea star wasting disease. Photo credit: alisonleighlilly via photopin cc.

Sea star wasting disease. Photo credit: alisonleighlilly via photopin cc.

Now, a new study led by University of Texas at Arlington provides more information about the immunity of sea stars and what that means for the coastal ecosystems they inhabit.

“The sea stars protect the rocky shores, keeping them from becoming dominated by mussels,” PhD candidate Lauren Fuess explained in a news release. “When you remove the sea stars, you see dramatic declines of other species, so basically you go from a diverse ecosystem to a mussel-coated beach.”

Fuess and UT Arlington associate professor of biology Laura Mydlarz examined infected sea stars to determine what makes them susceptible to the rabies-like disease.

“We’re looking at an increasing rate of diseases that may be linked to climate change as well as pollution in the ocean,” Mydlarz said. “What we’re working on at our field sites and here at UT Arlington is looking to see if some of this temperature stress due to climate change or pollution are causing the animals, such as the sea stars and the corals, to be more susceptible to diseases.”

They identified several changes on a cellular level that could explain why the sea stars start breaking down.

“We also saw changes in nervous genes that might be contributing to that twisting of the arms,” Fuess said.

To learn more:

Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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