LABORATORY STUDIES ON THE EFFECT OF TEMPERATURE ON EPIZOOTIC SHELL DISEASE IN THE AMERICAN LOBSTER HOMARUS AMERICANUS
Jeffrey D. Shields, Professor of Marine Science, Dept. Environmental & Aquatic Animal Health, VIMS,
Patrick M. Gillevet, Director, Microbiome Analysis Center, Professor, Dept. Biology, George Mason University
The American lobster, Homarus americanus, population off southern New England is threatened by the emergence of epizootic shell disease (ESD). The disease causes a rapid necrosis, or degradation, of the lobster cuticle. The effect of the disease on the fishery have been difficult to quantify, but the stock has declined to the point that a moratorium on lobster fishing in southern New England has been considered. The sustainability of the lobster fishery off southern New England is at significant risk due to the emergence of ESD. The etiology, or causality, of ESD has been hard to identify, but it is now characterized as a disease caused by an altered bacterial flora (bacterial dysbiosis) that occurs in relation to changes in environmental and anthropogenic stressors. Temperature is a key variable in ESD and is known to affect the severity and incidence of the disease, but rigorous laboratory experiments are needed to better understand the relationships among temperature, ESD and lobster health. Our goal is to understand and quantify how temperature affects lobsters with ESD so as to better understand the disease dynamics in light of the increasing variability in water temperature in the region.