orbiculator asked: Do you think sea star populations in the West Coat would eventually develop some measure of immunity toward wasting syndrome? Is there any common intertidal species that remain unaffected by the species?
Sea Star Wasting Disease
So here’s the thing about SWD… no one really knows what causes it. What we do know, is that higher water temperatures seems to accompany outbreaks (the die-off during event of outbreak are always greater in areas where the water temp is higher (ie. protected inlets versus cooler open ocean).
Most SWD outbreaks in the pacific have accompanied el nino or la nina warming events„ which we are actually not experiencing right now. So, what’s to blame this time? We don’t know. It could be that the ocean has just warmed too much, or another theory is that the recent overpopulation/population boom of sunflower stars in the pacific along the North American coast is to blame. It could be both.
Could sea stars develop an immunity to the disease? We have no idea tbh. An you are spot on in recognizing that some species of sea stars are keystone species in rocky intertidal communities (rocky intertidal ecology 101), so its possible that if sea star populations collapse in some areas… so will much of those communities.
If you want to know more, you really should check out Chris Mah’s blog. He’s kind of the guy you go to for Echinoderm Biology:
image: Ochre sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) taken at Ganges Harbour, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia; photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson