Ecology of Marine Diseases

Principal Investigator(s): 

Drew Harvell

Epidemiological studies of diseases in marine systems have been rare and there is a paucity of information regarding even the most basic properties of marine pathogens (e.g. identity, host-specificity) and factors (e.g. environmental correlates) affecting disease processes (Harvell et al. 1999). In particular, little is known about the mechanisms of either disease transmission or host resistance and their roles in facilitating disease outbreaks.

Theoretical and experimental practices developed to model infectious disease in humans (Anderson & May 1991), wildlife (Daszak et al. 2000), and agricultural systems (Real 1996) have provided some useful insight, but the applicability of these "terrestrial" models to the comparatively more open system like the ocean is not known. Knowledge of mechanisms of host resistance among marine invertebrates is effectively a black box. There is a lack of understanding of basic disease resistance mechanisms and their interaction with environmental stressors. Using a few well studied host-pathogen interactions or those with long-term monitoring data, the Working Group on marine diseases will bring together researchers who work with diverse diseases of marine organisms along with theoreticians and statisticians and will:

  1. Synthesize what is currently known about marine diseases and their environmental drivers
  2. Develop new epidemiological theory for analysis of marine diseases
  3. Review differences between disease ecology in marine and terrestrial habitats, including the consequences of spill-over of infectious micro-organisms from farmed into wild populations

More information about this project