Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Scientific Reports



First Page



The protozoan parasite Perkinsus marinus, which causes dermo disease in Crassostrea virginica, is one of the most ecologically important and economically destructive marine pathogens. The rapid and persistent intensification of dermo in the USA in the 1980s has long been enigmatic. Attributed originally to the effects of multi-year drought, climatic factors fail to fully explain the geographic extent of dermo’s intensification or the persistence of its intensified activity. Here we show that emergence of a unique, hypervirulent P. marinus phenotype was associated with the increase in prevalence and intensity of this disease and associated mortality. Retrospective histopathology of 8355 archival oysters from 1960 to 2018 spanning Chesapeake Bay, South Carolina, and New Jersey revealed that a new parasite phenotype emerged between 1983 and 1990, concurrent with major historical dermo disease outbreaks. Phenotypic changes included a shortening of the parasite’s life cycle and a tropism shift from deeper connective tissues to digestive epithelia. The changes are likely adaptive with regard to the reduced oyster abundance and longevity faced by P. marinus after rapid establishment of exotic pathogen Haplosporidium nelsoni in 1959. Our findings, we hypothesize, illustrate a novel ecosystem response to a marine parasite invasion: an increase in virulence in a native parasite.


doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-92379-6

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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