Editor’s Choice – Macroecological patterns of disease outbreak for aquaculture

 

February 2013 (Issue 50:1)

Leung, T. L. F. Bates, A. E. (2013) More rapid and severe disease outbreaks for aquaculture at the tropics: implications for food security Journal of Applied Ecology 50:1, 215-222

Aquaculture is expanding to meet demands for growing seafood consumption, and many wild capture fisheries have become fully and overexploited. An added threat to global food security for both cultured and wild aquatic resources is climate change. Climate change projections highlight tropical regions as being most vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to greater dietary protein reliance from fish and shellfish, lower adaptive capacity and projected reductions in potential primary production and catches.

Disease outbreaks are also more prevalent in the tropics and the frequency of infectious disease outbreaks is expected to get worse as waters get warmer, resulting in higher transmission and proliferation rates. However incidence of disease in aquaculture has not been accounted for in regional vulnerability assessments. Also, the global-scale epidemiological patterns affecting aquaculture systems are largely unknown – until now.

In this Editor’s Choice paper, Leung & Bates (2013) carry out the first macroecological study of disease outbreak for aquaculture. By undertaking a meta-analysis of aquaculture sites across the globe, they found disease outbreaks have greater impact and are more rapid closer to the equator. They included different factors in their statistical analyses such as governance efficiency, latitude, taxon, whether or not hosts were native and the type of disease agent (bacterial, viral or parasitic). They found latitude, taxon and host life stage to be the most important effects. These findings suggest aquaculture sites in tropical countries suffer greater losses and have less time to prevent and adapt to losses due to disease, along with early life stages of fish and invertebrates being the most sensitive.

Importantly, the environmental signals they detected agree with expectations from natural systems. The authors are, however, careful to point out that part of this pattern could be due to better management of aquaculture systems at higher latitudes, and although this was not supported by their analyses, future studies pinpointing the most important environmental and management drivers will help. They also make recommendations for dealing with, predicting and mitigating against disease outbreaks in aquaculture. This involves improving details of reporting under outbreaks, joining up models and experiments to aid in the adaptive capacity and taking into account disease in regional vulnerability assessments under climate change.

It would seem that a greater dialogue between ecologists, epidemiologists and aquaculture researchers and practitioners could help many of the challenges that lie ahead. Detailed data collected from aquaculture could help to advance disease ecology and knowledge of environmental baselines from ecological theory could help the future sustainability of aquaculture as well as environmental management more generally.


Julia Blanchard julia.blanchard@sheffield.ac.uk
Associate Editor

 

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