DAO 124:41-54 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03111

Fine-scale transition to lower bacterial diversity and altered community composition precedes shell disease in laboratory-reared juvenile American lobster

Sarah G. Feinman1, Andrea Unzueta Martínez2,5, Jennifer L. Bowen1,5, Michael F. Tlusty3,4,*

1Biology Department, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA 02125, USA
2Biology Department, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA
3Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, New England Aquarium, Boston, MA 02110, USA
4School for the Environment, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA 02125, USA
5Present address: Department of Marine and Environmental Science, Northeastern University, Nahant, MA 01908, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The American lobster Homarus americanus supports a valuable commercial fishery in the Northeastern USA and Maritime Canada; however, stocks in the southern portion of the lobster’s range have shown declines, in part due to the emergence of shell disease. Epizootic shell disease is a bacterially induced cuticular erosion that renders even mildly affected lobsters unmarketable because of their appearance, and in more severe cases can cause mortality. Despite the importance of this disease, the associated bacterial communities have not yet been fully characterized. We sampled 2 yr old, laboratory-reared lobsters that displayed signs of shell disease at the site of disease as well as at 0.5, 1, and 1.5 cm away from the site of disease to determine how the bacterial community changed over this fine spatial scale. Illumina sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene revealed a distinct bacterial community at the site of disease, with significant reductions in bacterial diversity and richness compared to more distant sampling locations. The bacterial community composition 0.5 cm from the site of disease was also altered, and there was an observable decrease in bacterial diversity and richness, even though there were no signs of disease at that location. Given the distinctiveness of the bacterial community at the site of disease and 0.5 cm from the site of disease, we refer to these communities as affected and transitionary, and suggest that these bacteria, including the previously proposed causative agent, Aquimarina ‘homaria’, are important for the initiation and progression of this laboratory model of shell disease.


KEY WORDS: American lobster · Shell disease · Bacterial communities · Microbiome · High throughput sequencing · 16S rRNA gene


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Cite this article as: Feinman SG, Unzueta Martínez A, Bowen JL, Tlusty MF (2017) Fine-scale transition to lower bacterial diversity and altered community composition precedes shell disease in laboratory-reared juvenile American lobster. Dis Aquat Org 124:41-54. https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03111

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