Devastating transboundary impacts of sea star wasting disease on subtidal asteroids
A study in the journal PLOS ONE uses volunteer diver surveys to assess the impacts of sea star wasting disease in the Salish Sea. Data shows that sunflower sea stars were especially hard hit and have all but disappeared from the region.
Sea star wasting disease devastated intertidal sea star populations from Mexico to Alaska between 2013–15, but little detail is known about its impacts to subtidal species. We assessed the impacts of sea star wasting disease in the Salish Sea, a Canadian / United States transboundary marine ecosystem, and world-wide hotspot for temperate asteroid species diversity with a high degree of endemism. We analyzed roving diver survey data for the three most common subtidal sea star species collected by trained volunteer scuba divers between 2006–15 in 5 basins and on the outer coast of Washington, as well as scientific strip transect data for 11 common subtidal asteroid taxa collected by scientific divers in the San Juan Islands during the spring/summer of 2014 and 2015. Our findings highlight differential susceptibility and impact of sea star wasting disease among asteroid species populations and lack of differences between basins or on Washington’s outer coast. Specifically, severe depletion of sunflower sea stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) in the Salish Sea support reports of major declines in this species from California to Alaska, raising concern for the conservation of this ecologically important subtidal predator.