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Models with environmental drivers offer a plausible mechanism for the rapid spread of infectious disease outbreaks in marine organisms.

Abstract

The first signs of sea star wasting disease (SSWD) epidemic occurred in just few months in 2013 along the entire North American Pacific coast. Disease dynamics did not manifest as the typical travelling wave of reaction-diffusion epidemiological model, suggesting that other environmental factors might have played some role. To help explore how external factors might trigger disease, we built a coupled oceanographic-epidemiological model and contrasted three hypotheses on the influence of temperature on disease transmission and pathogenicity. Models that linked mortality to sea surface temperature gave patterns more consistent with observed data on sea star wasting disease, which suggests that environmental stress could explain why some marine diseases seem to spread so fast and have region-wide impacts on host populations.

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