The Smallest Stars Have Gone Out


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More than 20 species of sea star suffered in a disease outbreak that started in 2013. But in the Bay Area, one small star hasn't returned.

Once there were thousands, a galaxy of tiny stars strewn over the rocky beaches of West Marin and the San Mateo coast. But within only a few years, Leptasterias pusilla, or the six-rayed sea star, vanished from Bay Area coastal beaches.

Scientists suspect that genetics and disease played a role. But there’s an additional mystery. Sea stars of all kinds perished up and down the West Coast from a still not-fully understood marine disease outbreak starting in 2013, but some of them have now recovered, at least in places. Leptasterias pusilla in the Bay Area, though, have not come back. A team of San Francisco State University biologists who’ve studied Leptasterias here for years conclude in a November 2019 paper in the journal PLOS ONE that the disappearance of the tiny stars might signal important changes in the Bay environment.

Read the Bay Nature story HERE.