Guest Lecture on Sea Star Wasting Disease

Drew is an amazing marine biologist who has worked on a wide range of impacts on marine invertebrate species and communities, most recently sea star wasting disease.  With the spectre of global warming threatening marine communities worldwide, Drew has become especially interested in the role warming plays in facilitating epidemics.  Her work is a tremendous combination of CSI disease ecology all the way through to curation of a stunning collection of art glass profiled in this award-winning film.

– Julia Parrish, Associate Dean, College of the Environment

Profile picture of Professor Drew Harvell


Sea star wasting disease (SSWD) devastated populations of asteroids over thousands of miles of the North American Pacific Coast from 2013 through 2016. Time series monitoring of the keystone intertidal species Pisaster ochraceus from the San Juan Islands, South Puget Sound, and Washington outer coast showed rapid progression of the outbreak, extremely high mortality rates in 2014, and continuing levels of wasting in the survivors in 2015.
Reports of wasting continue in 2016. Analysis of field surveys and lab experiments showed strong size-specific and temperature-dependent disease risk. Warm temperature anomalies recorded in the summer of 2014 may have contributed to the rate and extent of SSWD impacts in the San Juan Islands. A subtidal species, Pycnopodia helianthoides, is even more severely affected and currently rare in our San Juan Island surveys, throughout the Salish Sea and affected up into Alaska. Work is underway to develop remote-sensing outlooks for other temperature sensitive marine diseases such as lobster shell disease and coral diseases.


Drew Harvell is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and Affiliate Faculty in School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington. She received her PhD from University of Washington in 1985. Her research on host-pathogen interactions and the sustainability of marine ecosystems has taken her from the reefs of Mexico, Indonesia, and Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest. She leads an NSF Research Coordination Network on Ecology of Infectious Marine Disease. She is a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, a winner of the Society of American Naturalists Jasper Loftus-Hills Award, and a lead author of the oceans chapter in the U.S. Climate Change Assessment. Harvell’s most recent work focuses on environmental drivers of sea star wasting disease and eel grass diseases. Her writing appears in The New York Times, The Hill and in over 140 academic articles in journals such as Science, Nature, and Ecology. A Sea of Glass is her upcoming book in spring 2016. Visit her research website at or the Fragile Legacy Blaschka Website at