CORVALLIS, Ore. - In less than a week, a healthy sea star can develop dark lesions, lose its arms and disintegrate into mush. The unprecedented die-off of these animals along the Oregon coast in 2014 took scientists by surprise.

At the Feb. 9 Corvallis Science Pub, Oregon State University's Bruce Menge will discuss efforts to understand the likely causes and potential consequences of this disease.

Menge leads a multiyear research program known as the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, or PISCO. As he and his colleagues investigated waters in Yaquina Bay, Boiler Bay and other locations, they documented the progress of the disease. They had never seen such rapid disappearance of what scientists call a keystone species - an animal that exerts a strong influence over the structure of an ecosystem.

From Alaska to Baja, California, the disease has affected more than 20 species of sea stars and attracted the attention of scientists across the country. In November, researchers at Cornell University and the University of California, Santa Cruz, announced that they had isolated a virus that appeared to be the cause of wasting, but the factors making the sea stars susceptible to disease remain unclear.

Menge is the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology and an OSU distinguished professor in the OSU College of Science.

The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. 2nd St. in Corvallis. Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.


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Bruce Menge, 541-737-5358