The diatom Pseudo-nitzchia produces a neurotoxin called domoic acid, which in high concentrations affects wildlife ranging from mussels and crabs to seabirds and sea lions, as well as humans. In humans, the effects of domoic acid poisoning can range from gastrointestinal distress to memory loss, and even death. Despite being studied in laboratories since the late 1980s, there is no consensus on the environmental conditions that lead to domoic acid events. These events are most frequent and impactful in eastern boundary current regions such as the California Current System, which is bordered by Washington, Oregon, and California. In Oregon alone, there have been six major domoic acid events: 1996, 1998-1999, 2001, 2002-2006, 2010, 2014-2015. McKibben et al. (2017) investigated the regulation of domoic acid at a climate scale to develop and test an applied risk model for the US West Coast” to read “McKibben et al. (2017) investigated the regulation of domoic acid at regional and decadal scales in order to develop and test an applied risk model for the impact of climate on the US West Coast. They used the PDO and ONI climate variability indices, averages of monthly and 3 month running means of SST anomaly values and variability to look at basin-scale ocean conditions. At a local scale, data were from zooplankton sampling every two to four weeks between 1996 to 2015 at hydrographic station offshore of Newport, OR. Additionally, the NOAA NCDC product “Daily Optimum Interpolation, Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer Only, Version 2, Final+Preliminary SST” was used to obtain the monthly SST anomaly metric, based on combined in situ and satellite data.
Their findings show that these events have occurred when there is advection of warmer water masses onto the continental shelf from southern or offshore areas. When the warm phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and El Niño coincide, the effect is additive. In the warm regime years, there is a later spring biological transition date, weaker alongshore currents, elevated water temperatures, and plankton communities are dominated by subtropical rather than subarctic species. The authors also note relative differences between the prevalence and phenology of domoic acid events in OR, CA and WA, which warrants further study via regional-scale modeling. Overall, this research shows a clear and enhanced risk of toxicity in shellfish during warm phases of natural climate oscillations. If predictions of more extreme warming come to bear, this would potentially lead to increased DA event intensity and frequency in coastal zones around the globe. This will not only affect wildlife, but may cause significant closures of economically important fisheries (e.g., Dungeness crab, anchovy, mussel, and razor clam), which would impact local communities and native populations.
Morgaine McKibben (Oregon State Univ., NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center)
William Peterson (NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center)
Michelle Wood (Univ. Oregon)
Vera L. Trainer (NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center)
Matthew Hunter (Oregon Dept. Fish & Wildlife)
Angelicque E. White (Oregon State Univ.)