MEPS 506:1-14 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10829

FEATURE ARTICLE
Sea urchin Diadema africanum mass mortality in the subtropical eastern Atlantic: role of waterborne bacteria in a warming ocean

S. Clemente1,*, J. Lorenzo-Morales2, J. C. Mendoza1, C. López1, C. Sangil3, F. Alves4, M. Kaufmann4,5,6, J. C. Hernández1

1Biodiversidad, Ecología Marina y Conservación, Departamento de Biología Animal (Ciencias Marinas), Facultad de Biología, Universidad de La Laguna, Avda. Astrofísico Francisco Sánchez s/n, 38206 La Laguna, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
2University Institute of Tropical Diseases and Public Health of the Canary Islands, Universidad de La Laguna, Avda. Astrofísico Francisco Sánchez s/n, 38203 La Laguna, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
3Botánica Marina, Departamento de Biología Vegetal, Universidad de La Laguna, 38071 La Laguna, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
4CIIMAR-Madeira (Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research of Madeira), Edifício Madeira Tecnopolo, Caminho da Penteada, 9020-105 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
5University of Madeira, Centre of Life Sciences, Marine Biology Station of Funchal, 9000-107 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
6CIIMAR/CIMAR (Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research), University of Porto, Rua dos Bragas 289,
4050-123 Porto, Portugal
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: A widespread mass mortality event of the sea urchin Diadema africanum was detected in the subtropical eastern Atlantic, extending from Madeira to the Canary Islands, covering a straight-line distance of >400 km. This is the first disease-related die-off of a diadematid documented in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Diseased individuals showed deterioration of the epidermis and water-vascular system, resulting in epidermal necrosis and release of spines. Despite some spatial heterogeneity in disease incidence at the study sites, there was a 65% overall reduction in urchin abundance after the mortality event compared to numbers pre-mortality. However, the reduction in urchin numbers did not compromise the species’ reproductive success; the settlement peak following the mortality event was of a similar magnitude to that in prior years. Bacterial isolation and culture techniques, and subsequent laboratory infection experiments, strongly suggested that Vibrio alginolyticus was involved in the disease. We hypothesize that the mass mortality event developed due to anomalously high seawater temperatures recorded in the 2 studied archipelagos and that warmer temperatures enabled infection of D. africanum by waterborne pathogenic bacteria. Fluctuations in urchin populations are key in determining the structure and functioning of benthic ecosystems: under the current seawater warming scenario, disease may result in more frequent phase shifts, aiding the persistence of macroalgae.


KEY WORDS: Echinoids · Diadematid · Disease · Widespread die-off · Vibrio · Infection experiments · Canary Islands · Madeira


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Cite this article as: Clemente S, Lorenzo-Morales J, Mendoza JC, López C and others (2014) Sea urchin Diadema africanum mass mortality in the subtropical eastern Atlantic: role of waterborne bacteria in a warming ocean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 506:1-14. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10829

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