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Butler Offers Expert Commentary in Article about Lobster Disease

Old Dominion University marine biologist Mark Butler is an expert source quoted in an Aug. 12 article in the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal about a disease that is depleting the Northeast lobster population.

The article focuses on a mysterious disease that rots the shells of lobsters, and which may force a sharp cutback in lobster fishing in the Northeast. This epizootic shell disease was first noticed decades ago when black spots began to appear on lobster shells.

Although the disease does not usually taint the lobster meat, it discolors and erodes the shell, making the lobster less marketable. In extreme cases, the shell rots away and the weakened lobster is killed by an infection or predator.

Scientists are unsure of the cause. Some believe chemical pollutants are to blame, while others are exploring causes such as warming of waters via climate change, invasive species, habitat loss and oil spills.

Butler, who has long researched the Caribbean spiny lobster, is quoted in the story as saying that several species of lobsters have contracted diseases believed to have been caused by pollution, habitat loss, overfishing or climate change. "For many species, the trends are not particularly promising," he told the Journal. "What the future holds for us is a little uncertain."

The ODU scientist currently leads a research team in a $1.4 million, National Science Foundation (NSF) supported project to explore evidence the team has developed to explain the spread of a deadly viral disease among spiny lobsters in the Caribbean and waters off Florida.

Butler and research collaborators described the PaV1 virus in 1999 and since then have studied its pathology, epidemiology, transmission and effects on juvenile lobster populations in the Florida Keys.

The researchers believe that their findings will have an impact beyond spiny lobster-PaV1 associations, providing a better understanding of how dispersal of infectious agents affects the spread and maintenance of disease in marine populations in general.

Butler's work with spiny lobsters in the Caribbean complements another project he and colleagues at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences have undertaken-with $2.25 million in support from the NSF-to study blue crab disease dynamics on the Virginia Eastern Shore.

This article was posted on: August 16, 2010

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