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Encyclopedia of Puget Sound


Disease as an ecological force

Petri dishes containing growth medium for bacteria catch the breath of killer whales as they swim. Photo: Pete Schroeder

In the third series of Salish Sea Currents, we present a main story and two vignettes on impacts of disease in the ecosystem. [View printable PDF of this series]

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Disease in herring threatens broader food web

Pacific herring have long been considered an essential part of the Puget Sound food web. Now, studies are beginning to reveal how diseases in herring could be reverberating through the ecosystem, affecting creatures large and small. We continue our coverage of the ecological impacts of disease in Puget Sound with this look at the region's most well-known forage fish.

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Pathogen-free herring are reared from eggs to allow a wide range of experiments on infectious organisms at the Marrowstone Marine Field Station. Photo: Christopher Dunagan

Are diseases playing a role in salmon decline?

Chinook, coho and steelhead populations in Puget Sound have declined dramatically over the past 30 years. In some cases, counts of fish returning to the rivers are just a tenth what they were in the 1980s. While many possible causes of this decline are under consideration, some researchers are focusing on the combined effects of predators and disease. This article continues our coverage of the ecological impacts of disease in Puget Sound.

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Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Photo: Eric Engbretson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Going viral: Concerns rise over potential impacts of disease on the ecosystem

Recent high-profile sewage spills into Puget Sound could mean more pathogens in the environment, prompting us to re-publish this story from 2016. From orcas to starfish to humans, disease affects every living creature in the ecosystem. Scientists are increasingly alarmed by its potential to devastate already compromised populations of species in Puget Sound.  

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Mist from the breath of killer whales is collected at the end of a long pole then tested for dozens of different types of bacteria. Photo: Pete Schroeder