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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Warming sea surface temperatures fuel summer epidemics of eelgrass wasting disease

Maya L. Groner*, Morgan E. Eisenlord, Reyn M. Yoshioka, Evan A. Fiorenza, Phoebe D. Dawkins, Olivia J. Graham, Miranda Winningham, Alex Vompe, Natalie D. Rivlin, Bo Yang, Colleen A. Burge, Brendan Rappazzo, Carla P. Gomes, C. Drew Harvell

*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 from 2013–2017 and correlated mid-summer prevalence of eelgrass wasting disease (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 2014 and did not recover. EWD prevalence ranged between 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.