Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Ryan B. Carnegie

Committee Member

Standish K. Allen, Jr.

Committee Member

Susan E. Ford

Committee Member

Kimberly S. Reece

Committee Member

andrew R. Wargo


The eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica is an ecologically and commercially important species whose natural populations have been devastated by overharvesting, habitat destruction, and disease, but the rapid growth of oyster aquaculture has shown potential to restore the economic significance of this species. A key threat to the growth and sustainability of oyster aquaculture is the association of human-pathogenic Vibrio bacteria with product marketed for raw consumption. Two Vibrio species, Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus, are the causes of the highest rates of seafood consumption-related mortality and gastrointestinal illness, respectively. Identification of the factors influencing V. vulnificus and V. parahaemolyticus prevalence and intensity in oysters is fundamental to better risk management. Within the oyster, these bacterial species interact with the same tissues as the prevalent oyster parasite, Perkinsus marinus, yet little is known about the effect of P. marinus infection on bacterial levels. Answering the fundamental question of whether P. marinus correlates with V. vulnificus and V. parahaemolyticus levels in oysters was the focus of this research. Oysters were deployed in the York River, Gloucester Point, VA, where both Vibrio species and P. marinus are endemic, and were sampled at five time points when levels of both P. marinus and Vibrio spp. were expected to be high in oysters. Abundance of all three organisms and pathogenic strains of V. parahaemolyticus were determined in individual oysters using molecular methods to investigate potential correlations between parasite and bacterial abundance. Additionally, the levels of V. vulnificus and V. parahaemolyticus in relation to histopathology associated with P. marinus infection and other conditions were determined. The following year, manipulation of P. marinus disease progression, which is slowed by lower salinities and favored by higher salinities, was attempted by deploying oysters at two additional sites of different salinities to gain insight into whether the timing of P. marinus infection emergence directly influences Vibrio levels. No correlation was observed between total abundance of P. marinus and either V. vulnificus or V. parahaemolyticus. Manipulation of P. marinus disease progression produced no effect on P. marinus emergence, so this yielded no insight into P. marinus-Vibrio interactions. Histopathological analyses did not reveal any correlations between P. marinus ranking, distribution, or associated tissue damage and Vibrio spp. levels. Though few in number, oysters infected by Haplosporidium nelsoni were characterized by higher levels of V. vulnificus, and oysters of peak gametogenic development had significantly higher levels of pathogenic strains of V. parahaemolyticus. The results with regard to H. nelsoni and gametogenic state warrant further study. The primary conclusion of this study is that oyster health has little influence on levels of human-pathogenic Vibrio species in oysters, inter-host variability in Vibrio levels is likely explained by other factors.




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