Disease epidemic and a marine heat wave are associated with the continental-scale collapse of a pivotal predator (Pycnopodia helianthoides)

The sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) is highly susceptible to sea star wasting disease. The authors of a 2019 paper published in Science Advances document the rapid, widespread decline of sunflower stars and discuss the ecological implications of losing this imporant subtidal predator species.

Sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides). Photo: JBrew (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/Jag9sr
Sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides). Photo: JBrew (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/Jag9sr

Abstract

Multihost infectious disease outbreaks have endangered wildlife, causing extinction of frogs and endemic birds, and widespread declines of bats, corals, and abalone. Since 2013, a sea star wasting disease has affected >20 sea star species from Mexico to Alaska. The common, predatory sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), shown to be highly susceptible to sea star wasting disease, has been extirpated across most of its range. Diver surveys conducted in shallow nearshore waters (n = 10,956; 2006–2017) from California to Alaska and deep offshore (55 to 1280 m) trawl surveys from California to Washington (n = 8968; 2004–2016) reveal 80 to 100% declines across a ~3000-km range. Furthermore, timing of peak declines in nearshore waters coincided with anomalously warm sea surface temperatures. The rapid, widespread decline of this pivotal subtidal predator threatens its persistence and may have large ecosystem-level consequences.

Citation

C. D. Harvell, D. Montecino-Latorre, J. M. Caldwell, J. M. Burt, K. Bosley, A. Keller, S. F. Heron, A. K. Salomon, L. Lee, O. Pontier, C. Pattengill-Semmens, J. K. Gaydos, Disease epidemic and a marine heat wave are associated with the continental-scale collapse of a pivotal predator (Pycnopodia helianthoides). Sci. Adv. 5, eaau7042 (2019).

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About the Author: 
C. D. Harvell1, D. Montecino-Latorre2, J. M. Caldwell3, J. M. Burt4,5, K. Bosley6, A. Keller7,S. F. Heron8,9,10, A. K. Salomon4,5, L. Lee4,5, O. Pontier5, C. Pattengill-Semmens11, J. K. Gaydos12 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. 2One Health Institute, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA. 3Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94040, USA. 4School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada. 5Hakai Institute, Heriot Bay, BC V0P 1H0, Canada. 6Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2032 SE OSU Drive, Newport, OR 97365, USA. 7Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, WA 98112, USA. 8NOAA Coral Reef Watch, College Park, MD 20740, USA. 9ReefSense Pty Ltd., Townsville, Queensland, Australia. 10Marine Geophysical Laboratory, Physics, College of Science and Technology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. 11Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), Key Largo, FL 33037, USA. 12The SeaDoc Society, Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center–Orcas Island Office, University of California, Davis, 942 Deer Harbor Road, Eastsound, WA 98245, USA.