A disease that has already struck sea stars, also known as starfish, in Washington and California has begun to devastate Oregon’s coastal ecosystem. Over the past few weeks, scientists have seen sea star wasting syndrome spread to 30 - 50 percent of the coast’s ochre sea star population, and experts believe that the species may be heading to local extinction.
The ochre sea star fills a similar role in tidal ecosystems as a lion or a cougar does on land — it’s a major predator. Without them, populations of other species can balloon and throw the system out of balance. In the case of Oregon’s tidal ecosystems, previous studies have shown that without the ochre sea star, mussels begin to take over, crowding out virtually all other invertebrates and plants. And that can have a chain reaction on other, neighboring ecosystems.
- Bruce Menge: Professor of integrative biology at Oregon State University