Ochre star mortality during the 2014 wasting disease epizootic: role of population size structure and temperature

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 Mar 5;371(1689):20150212. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0212.


Over 20 species of asteroids were devastated by a sea star wasting disease (SSWD) epizootic, linked to a densovirus, from Mexico to Alaska in 2013 and 2014. For Pisaster ochraceus from the San Juan Islands, South Puget Sound and Washington outer coast, time-series monitoring showed rapid disease spread, high mortality rates in 2014, and continuing levels of wasting in the survivors in 2015. Peak prevalence of disease at 16 sites ranged to 100%, with an overall mean of 61%. Analysis of longitudinal data showed disease risk was correlated with both size and temperature and resulted in shifts in population size structure; adult populations fell to one quarter of pre-outbreak abundances. In laboratory experiments, time between development of disease signs and death was influenced by temperature in adults but not juveniles and adult mortality was 18% higher in the 19 °C treatment compared to the lower temperature treatments. While larger ochre stars developed disease signs sooner than juveniles, diseased juveniles died more quickly than diseased adults. Unusual 2-3 °C warm temperature anomalies were coincident with the summer 2014 mortalities. We suggest these warm waters could have increased the disease progression and mortality rates of SSWD in Washington State.

Keywords: Pisaster ochraceus; climate change; epizootic; host demography; mass mortality; sea star wasting disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Diseases / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Population Density
  • Starfish*
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors