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Seagrass wasting disease along a naturally occurring salinity gradient

Journal article
Authors Stina Jakobsson-Thor
Gunilla B. Toth
Henrik Pavia
Published in Marine Ecology Progress Series
Volume 614
Pages 67-77
ISSN 0171-8630
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of marine sciences, Tjärnö Marine Laboratory
Pages 67-77
Language en
Keywords Labyrinthula zosterae, Zostera marina, Eelgrass, Chemical defense, Infection, Pathogen, eelgrass zostera-marina, labyrinthula-zosterae, pathogen, temperature, growth, susceptibility, populations, resistance, infection, dynamics, Environmental Sciences & Ecology, Marine & Freshwater Biology, Oceanography
Subject categories Marine ecology


In the 1930s, outbreaks of the wasting disease pathogen Labyrinthula zosterae caused a severe reduction of the eelgrass Zostera marina meadows in the Atlantic Ocean. Many surviving populations were found in low-salinity environments, and low-salinity environments have therefore been hypothesized to act as a refuge for eelgrass against L. zosterae infection. Here, we investigated L. zosterae pathogen load and wasting disease symptoms in eelgrass over a similar to 970 km salinity gradient (6-25 PSU) along the Swedish coast. Furthermore, laboratory infection experiments and studies of inhibitory compounds were carried out to investigated whether resistance against the pathogen is correlated to differences in natural pathogen pressure among eelgrass populations. The degree of L. zosterae infection was positively correlated to salinity and the pathogen was absent in several of the eelgrass meadows in lower salinity (7-8 PSU). However, a low L. zosterae pathogen load was also found in some eelgrass populations in the lowest salinity (6 PSU). No correlation between resistance and pathogen pressure in situ was detected, and all eelgrass shoots produced chemical compounds that inhibited L. zosterae growth. These results imply that positive correlations between L. zosterae and salinity are not due to eelgrass resistance, but rather to the poor ability of L. zosterae to cope with low salinity. However, our results also indicate that some strains of L. zosterae may adapt to low salinity, and therefore there may also be a risk of wasting disease outbreaks in low-salinity eelgrass meadows, in contrast to what so far has been the general hypothesis.

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