MEPS 551:171-183 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11750

New disease outbreak affects two dominant sea urchin species associated with Australian temperate reefs

Michael Sweet1,*, Mark Bulling1, Jane E. Williamson2,3 

1Molecular Health and Disease Laboratory, Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, College of Life and Natural Sciences, University of Derby, DE22 1GB, UK
2Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales 2109, Australia
3Sydney Institute of Marine Science, Mosman, New South Wales 2088, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Diseases of sea urchins have been implicated in dramatic transitions of marine ecosystems. Although no definitive causal agent has been found for many of these outbreaks, most are hypothesised to be waterborne and bacterial. Here we show the first report of a novel disease affecting at least 2 species of urchins off the south-eastern coast of Australia. The aetiological agent, identified via a range of molecular techniques, immuno-histology and inoculation experiments, was found to be the opportunistic pathogen Vibrio anguillarum. The disease appears to be temperature-dependent, with a faster transmission rate and increase in prevalence during experimental trials conducted at higher temperatures. Furthermore, analysis of long-term field data suggests that it may have already reached epidemic proportions. With the increases in ocean temperatures brought about by climate change, this novel urchin disease may pose a severe problem for the organisms associated with the temperate reefs off Australia and/or the ecosystem as a whole.


KEY WORDS: Holopneustes purpurascens · Heliocidaris erythrogramma · Pathogen · Vibrio · Henle-Koch postulates · Echinoderm


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Cite this article as: Sweet M, Bulling M, Williamson JE (2016) New disease outbreak affects two dominant sea urchin species associated with Australian temperate reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 551:171-183. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11750

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