In 2013, an outbreak of sea star wasting disease (SSWD) impacted over 20 species of sea stars. The sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), a keystone predator of urchins, was all but eradicated. The ecological loss: a 311% increase in urchin populations and 30% decline in kelp forest density along the North American Pacific Coast.
To date, the ecosystem shows no signs of a rebound.
This project will explore genomic variation in the sunflower sea star that provides resilience to SSWD and other stressors. In addition, researchers will identify regions that confer high risk to SSWD and assess the consequence of the 2013 event on patterns of genomic diversity among remnant sea star populations. These insights can help shape a captive breeding program to advance genomic resilience and restore genetic diversity in subsequent populations.
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