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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 679:47-58 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13902

Warming sea surface temperatures fuel summer epidemics of eelgrass wasting disease

Maya L. Groner1,2,*, Morgan E. Eisenlord3, Reyn M. Yoshioka4, Evan A. Fiorenza5, Phoebe D. Dawkins5, Olivia J. Graham3, Miranda Winningham3, Alex Vompe6, Natalie D. Rivlin7,8, Bo Yang9, Colleen A. Burge10,11, Brendan Rappazzo12, Carla P. Gomes12, C. Drew Harvell3

1US Geological Survey Western Fisheries Research Center, Seattle, WA 98115, USA
2Prince William Sound Science Center, Cordova, AK 99574, USA
3Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA
4Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, University of Oregon, Charleston, OR 97420, USA
5Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697, USA
6Department of Microbiology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA
7University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1, Canada
8Institute of Marine Environmental Technology, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD 21202, USA
9Department of Urban and Regional Planning, San José State University, San Jose, CA 95192, USA
10University of Maryland Baltimore, Department of Microbiology & Immunology, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA
11California Department of Fish & Wildlife, University of California, Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, USA
12Department of Computer Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: 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.


KEY WORDS: Labyrinthulomycetes · Seagrass · Opportunistic pathogens · Marine disease · Warm water anomaly · Heatwave · Heterokont


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Cite this article as: Groner ML, Eisenlord ME, Yoshioka RM, Fiorenza EA and others (2021) Warming sea surface temperatures fuel summer epidemics of eelgrass wasting disease. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 679:47-58. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13902

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