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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU’s Hofmann Co-Edits Collected Marine Disease Research

By Tom Robinson

Despite vast existing research, marine disease remains a fertile field of study, according to Old Dominion University oceanographer Eileen Hofmann. Yet, she said, new findings are inconsistently shared with the public and even among scientists.

Hofmann, a professor in ODU's Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, believes she has helped bridge that divide.

She has co-edited a special edition of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B that includes 13 studies focused on the impact, diagnosis, forecasting, management and policy of marine disease.

Released this week, the issue highlights collaborations within a Research Coordination Network, funded by the National Science Foundation and based at Cornell University. NSF networks team up groups of investigators to coordinate their research across disciplines and boundaries.

"It's the first time a whole journal has been devoted to marine diseases," said Hofmann, who reviewed, edited and selected the articles with Kevin Lafferty of the University of California, Santa Barbara. "They have been ignored for a very long time. What we're finding out now is they have enormous economic costs."

In her journal introduction, Hofmann wrote that a mass infection of sea-star wasting disease that began two years ago along North America's Pacific Coast, from a never-before-seen virus, inspired the special issue and raised international awareness of marine diseases.

"Why does that matter? Because we're losing a species that other things depend upon to keep the whole food web operational," Hofmann said. "It's not like human populations are going to die because sea stars are sick, but human populations will lose ecosystem services because of marine disease."

New research featured in the issue reveals how warming oceans increase susceptibility to disease among marine organisms, including American lobsters in Maine affected by widespread shell disease.

Other articles discuss risk-management systems involving potentially harmful bacteria levels in oysters; modeled conditions under which fishing infected abalone can reduce disease and improve yield; and how coordinated information campaigns can mobilize public support for ocean-restoration policy.

"Diseases are pervasive in marine ecosystems," Hofmann said. "More are normal, but some come with enormous social, cultural and economic costs.

"What all of this will come down to is whether or not policies are made and laws are passed that can mitigate these diseases, or that will provide more funding specifically targeted to marine disease research."

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