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Potential Causes Of Starfish Wasting Disease Being Studied

The Oregon Coast Aquarium

Large numbers of dead sea stars washed up along the Oregon coast last year. The starfish wasting disease has been found in 20 species of the animals from Baja, California to Alaska.

In one week, lesions can appear on a healthy sea star, its arms can fall off and then it disintegrates. In November, researchers isolated a virus believed to trigger the wasting disease, but additional causes are still unknown.

Oregon State University marine biology professor Bruce Menge believes the densovirus and ocean acidification are two potential causes behind the wasting disease. He says the sea star is a keystone species in maintaining the structure of the ecosystem it lives in.

“Within a month and a half the frequency of the disease had increased dramatically from close to about half a percent of the population up to 50 to 80 percent of the population.”

Menge says if a keystone species like the sea star disappears, it can result in an abundance of one or more species and the local extinctions of others.

Bruce Menge will talk about the Starfish wasting disease at OSU’s Science pub event in Corvallis on Monday, February 9.