Science Notes & News by Eric Borneman & Ronald L. Shimek, Ph. D.

Invertebrate Tidbits

Ronald L. Shimek, Ph. D.

Lafferty, K. D., J. W. Porter, and S. E. Ford. 2004. Are Diseases Increasing In The Ocean? Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics. 35: 31-54.


Many factors (climate warming, pollution, harvesting, introduced species) can contribute to disease outbreaks in marine life. Concomitant increases in each of these makes it difficult to attribute recent changes in disease occurrence or severity to any one factor. For example, the increase in disease of Caribbean coral is postulated to be a result of climate change and introduction of terrestrial pathogens. Indirect evidence exists that (a) warming increased disease in turtles; (b) protection, pollution, and terrestrial pathogens increased mammal disease; (c) aquaculture increased disease in mollusks; and (d) release from overfished predators increased sea urchin disease. In contrast, fishing and pollution may have reduced disease in fishes. In other taxa (e.g., sea grasses, crustaceans, sharks), there is little evidence that disease has changed over time. The diversity of patterns suggests there are many ways that environmental change can interact with disease in the ocean.


In this review article the authors bring together many examples of diseases found in marine organisms. A large proportion of their examples focus on coral reefs and coral reef organisms. We are often made aware of the many direct ways in which human activities negatively influence coral reefs. The authors have collected enough information to indicate that some of the more subtle human impacts are no less severe. Additionally, however, they also discuss examples of diseases of marine organisms that apparently are caused by natural pathogens whose affects on marine life have no relationship to mankind whatsoever. The study of diseases of marine organisms is relatively new and this article provides a fascinating look at a world of diseases and their effects that is just opening up to us.

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Science Notes & News by Ronald L. Shimek, Ph. D.-