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Title: Reduction and recovery of keystone predation pressure after disease-related mass mortality
Disturbances such as disease can reshape communities through interruption of ecological interactions. Changes to population demographics alter how effectively a species performs its ecological role. While a population may recover in density, this may not translate to recovery of ecological function. In 2013, a sea star wasting syndrome outbreak caused mass mortality of the keystone predator Pisaster ochraceus on the North American Pacific coast. We analyzed sea star counts, biomass, size distributions, and recruitment from long-term intertidal monitoring sites from San Diego to Alaska to assess regional trends in sea star recovery following the outbreak. Recruitment, an indicator of population recovery, has been spatially patchy and varied within and among regions of the coast. Despite sea star counts approaching predisease numbers, sea star biomass, a measure of predation potential on the mussel Mytilus californianus, has remained low. This indicates that post-outbreak populations have not regained their full predation pressure. The regional variability in percent of recovering sites suggested differences in factors promoting sea star recovery between regions but did not show consistent patterns in postoutbreak recruitment on a coast-wide scale. These results shape predictions of where changes in community composition are likely to occur in years following the disease outbreak and provide insight into how populations of keystone species resume their ecological roles following mortality-inducing disturbances.
Award ID(s):
1735607 1737372
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Ecology and evolution
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Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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