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In 2013, starfish – including the Morning Sun Star, the rich och och and the Sunflower Star, whose limbs can be three feet – died millions of times on the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Alaska.
They succumbed to a wasteful illness. It began with white lesions on the limbs, the dissolution of the surrounding flesh, the loss of limbs, and finally death. To understand the problem, let alone solve it, the problem had to be explored.
"I received a $ 400 check from a group of schoolchildren from Arkansas. Harvell. "These kids were so upset about the idea that starfish disappeared from the oceans, that they went out and ran this fundraiser and raised $ 400 so we could help with our research. I never asked her. They just did it. "
Dr. Harvell got it together with their own money, and a donor did a lot more. "That funded some of our early polls," she said. "These kids, who were not any of them in the Pacific, but they just needed to know that those stars were there."
One of the last results of the children's donation a newspaper that throws On Wednesday in the magazine "Science Advances" a light was published on the sinking of the starfish, also called starfish. The main suspect: our warming of the oceans.
In 2013, parts of the Pacific Ocean were unusually warm as part of a broader sea-heat wave, also known as blob, that would last until 2015 and which was probably caused by humans global warming. But while the sea has warmed up, it does not warm up evenly and makes it hard to tell if the heatwave has contributed to the deaths of the starfish.
The study used Harvell and her colleagues reports of citizens from citizens. Scientists and ocean floor samples collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to compare changes in the sunflower star population with changes in sea temperature during the outbreak.
While the disease involved 20 species of starfish, the researchers focused on the sunflower star because it was particularly badly affected and there was good historical data on its population before the epidemic.
The researchers found that the death of the sunflower star coincides with the pattern of heat spreading through the ocean.
According to Rebecca Vega Thurber, an adjunct professor of environmental microbiology at Oregon State University, the study: "What is really exciting about this work is the very close agreement between this temperature anomaly that occurred the year the starfish began to die."
Wherever the warming began, the sunflower stars became sick and died.
The study showed a link between warming temperatures and the spread of the disease, not a direct cause. However, this confirms a hypothesis that was initially challenged because the virus which, according to the researchers, is accounted for by the virus, also occurs in healthy starfish.
"This trigger seems to be the temperature in this case," said Vega Thurber.
Dr. Vega Thurber pointed out that the presence of a particular pathogen does not necessarily mean that a disease develops .
For example, if you had chickenpox, you carry the virus that causes shingles. About one third of the carriers will contract the disease, two thirds will not. It takes something to get it to happen.
Heat has also been implicated as a trigger for the spread of a fungus that extinguishes frog and toad populations worldwide, as well as coral diseases. When corals whiten or lose their symbiotic algae due to ocean warming, they usually kill them.
There are things we can do to support life in the sea. Harvell. We can transplant seagrass beds and protect mangroves. But ultimately we have to stop climate change, she said. The oceans have absorbed more than 19459014. 90 percent of the atmospheric heat that people have caused by releasing greenhouse gases.
But last summer, on the south coast of Alaska, researchers saw a glimmer of hope : the reappearance of sunflower stars during the outbreak.
"We do not know exactly where they came from," said Brenda Konar, professor of marine biology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who was not involved in the Science Advances study. "They were quite small and we do not know if they will survive. So we are really curious about what we will see next summer.
When they make a comeback, the students from Arkansas who are now teenagers will probably be thrilled.
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