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USGS Mendenhall Postdoctoral  Research Fellowship Program

14-21. Effects of Global Climate Change on Emerging Infectious Diseases of Fish

Losses from infectious disease are an important, but a poorly understood component of natural mortality among aquatic animals (Harvell et al. 2004; Lafferty et al. 2004; McCallum et al. 2004; Ward and Lafferty 2004). As poikilotherms, fish are highly dependent on environmental temperature to help maintain homeostasis and other critical physiological processes, such as immune function, that can affect disease progression (Wedemeyer 1996). Thus, factors of the host, the pathogen and the environment all play important roles in the ecology and emergence of aquatic animal diseases. Recently, there has been increasing debate about the potential effects of climate change on infectious diseases affecting humans (Dobson 2009; Lafferty 2009; Ostfeld 2009; Randolph 2009) as well as fish and wildlife (Harvell et al. 2002, 2009; Marcogliese 2008). Among homeotherms such as humans and many terrestrial wildlife species, the distribution, severity or emergence of infectious diseases will be impacted by changes in habitat and the geographic ranges of hosts, vectors and pathogens. However, the ecology of infectious diseases of finfish will be additionally affected by water temperature that, in poikilothermic vertebrates, controls both the replication rate of pathogens in vivo as well as the host immune response (Kocan et al 2009). Thus, predicting the impact of temperature on infectious disease in finfish can be complex.

Fish health research program at the USGS includes both basic and applied science focused on understanding the factors that control the distribution and severity of infectious diseases affecting marine and freshwater fishes. A strong feature of our laboratory is the application of classical microbiological and immunological approaches combined with molecular and genome-scaled technologies. In addition, we have developed important model laboratory systems for fish disease research using specific-pathogen-free stocks of fish.

This Mendenhall project presents the opportunity to conduct independent research, in collaboration with USGS scientists, to investigate the effects of temperature on the finfish immune response to infectious diseases. The successful candidate will have a strong background in immunology, infectious disease modeling, microbiology, ecology, bioinformatics or computational biology. Proposed postdoc projects may include use of one or more of the model pathogens and host systems already in use at the USGS (for example: Hershberger et al. 2007; Laing et al. 2008; Penaranda et al. 2009; Purcell et al. 2010; Sanders et al. 2003; Vojtech et al. 2008). Relevant topics may include, but are not restricted to:

Research under this Opportunity is expected to produce information on the potential effects of a warming climate on the drivers of infectious diseases of marine and freshwater fish and provide important data for models that can be used to predict the response of aquatic ecosystems to global change. The Fellow is expected to generate novel scientific information for publication in the peer-reviewed literature as well as assist federal, state and tribal natural resource managers better understand and predict potential effects of climate change on diseases affecting natural populations of marine and freshwater fish.


Dobson, A. 2009. Climate variability, global change, immunity, and the dynamics of infectious diseases. Ecology 90:920-927.

Harvell, C.D., C.E. Mitchell, J.R. Ward, S. Altizer, A.P. Dobson, R.S. Ostfeld and M.D. Samuel. 2002. Climate warming and disease risks for terrestrial and marine biota. Science296:2158-2162.

Harvell, D., R. Aronson, N. Baron, J. Connell, A. Dobson, S. Ellner, L. Gerber, K. Kim, A. Kuris, H. McCallum, K. Lafferty, B. McKay, J. Porter, M. Pascual, G. Smith, K. Sutherland and J. Ward. 2004. The rising tide of ocean diseases: unsolved problems and research priorities. Front. Ecol. Environ. 2:375-382.

Harvell, D., S. Altizer, I.M. Cattadori, L. Harrington and E. Weil. 2009. Climate change and wildlife diseases: When does the host matter the most? Ecology 90:912-920.

Hershberger, P.K., J. Gregg, C. Pacheco, J. Winton, J. Richard and G. Traxler. 2007. Larval Pacific herring, Clupea pallasii (Valenciennes), are highly susceptible to viral haemorrhagic septicaemia and survivors are partially protected after their metamorphosis to juveniles. J. Fish Dis. 30:445-458.

Kocan, R., P. Hershberger, G. Sanders and J. Winton. 2009. Effects of temperature on disease progression and swimming stamina in Ichthyophonus-infected rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). J. Fish Dis. 32:835-843.

Lafferty, K.D. 2009. The ecology of climate change and infectious diseases. Ecology 90:888-900.

Lafferty, K.D., J.W. Porter and S.E. Ford. 2004. Are diseases increasing in the ocean? Ann. Rev. Ecol. Evol. System. 35:31-54.

Laing, K.J., M.K. Purcell, J.R. Winton and J.D. Hansen. 2008. A genomic view of the NOD-like receptor family in teleost fish: Identification of a novel NLR subfamily in zebrafish. BMC Evol. Biol. 8:42.

Marcogliese, D.J. 2008. The impact of climate change on the parasites and infectious diseases of aquatic animals. Rev. Sci. Tech. (Int. Off. Epiz.) 27:467-484.

McCallum, H.I., A. Kuris, C.D. Harvell, K.D. Lafferty, G.W. Smith, and J. Porter. 2004. Does terrestrial epidemiology apply to marine systems? Trends Ecol. Evol. 19:585-591.

Ostfeld, R.S. 2009. Climate change and the distribution and intensity of infectious diseases. Ecology 90:903-905.

Penaranda, M.D., M.K. Purcell and G. Kurath. 2009. Differential virulence mechanisms of infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) infection in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) include host entry and virus replication kinetics. J. Gen.Virol. 90:2172-2182.

Purcell, M.K., S.E. LaPatra, J.C. Woodson, G. Kurath, and J.R. Winton (2010) Differential susceptibility of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) families to infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) is associated with early viral replication and suggests a role for constitutive defenses. Fish and Shellfish Immunol. 28: 98-105.

Randolph, S.E. 2009. Perspectives on climate change impacts on infectious diseases. Ecology 90:927-931.

Sanders, G.E., W.N. Batts and J.R. Winton. 2003. Susceptibility of zebrafish (Danio rerio) to a model pathogen, spring viremia of carp virus. Comp. Med. 53:514-52.1

Vojtech, L.N., G.E. Sanders, C. Conway, V. Ostland and J.D. Hansen. 2008. Host immune response and acute disease in a zebrafish model of Francisella pathogenesis. Infect. Immun. 77:914-925.

Ward, J.R. and K.D. Lafferty. 2004. The elusive baseline of marine disease: are diseases in ocean ecosystems increasing? PLoS Biol. 2:542-547.

Wedemeyer, G.A. 1996. Physiology of Fish in Intensive Culture Systems. Chapman and Hall, New York.

Proposed Duty Station: Seattle, WA; Nordland, WA

Areas of Ph.D.: Immunology, microbiology, infectious disease ecology/modeling, parasitology, genome sciences or fisheries ecology (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines but with knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet on of the following qualifications - Research Microbiologist, Research Ecologist, Research Biologist, Research Geneticist, Research Fisheries Biologist.

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of theposition will be made by the Human Resources specialist).

Research Advisors:  James Winton, (206) 526-6282 x 328,; Maureen Purcell, (206) 526-6282 x 252,; John Hansen (206) 526-6282 x 257,;  Gael Kurath, (206) 526-6282 x 279,; Diane Elliott, (206) 526-6282 x 258; Paul Hershberger, (360) 385-1007 x 225,

Human Resources Office Contact: Robert Hosinski, (916) 278-9397,

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