Health and survival of red abalone, Haliotis rufescens, under varying temperature, food supply, and exposure to the agent of withering syndrome

Beverly A. Braid, James D. Moore, Thea T. Robbins, Ronald Hedrick, Ronald S. Tjeerdema, Carolyn S. Friedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Withering syndrome (WS) is a disease of wild and cultured abalone caused by a Rickettsiales-like prokaryote (WS-RLP). This study compared the pathologic changes that occur during the progression of WS in red abalone to those caused by environmental stresses consisting of elevated temperature and food limitation and determined the impact of these stressors on WS prevalence and intensity. Farmed red abalone were administered a feed-based oxytetracycline therapeutic treatment to assure WS-RLP-free status prior to initiation of the experiment. Groups were then held in each of eight combinations of exposed vs. unexposed to WS-RLP, elevated vs. ambient temperature, and high vs. low food supply, for 447 days. Mortality was associated with starvation and disease but not elevated temperature alone. Elevated temperature significantly affected WS-RLP transmission: only 1.7% of WS-RLP- exposed abalone held at ambient temperature (12.3°C) became infected compared to at least 72% of those held at elevated temperature (18.7°C). Among exposed abalone at elevated temperature, fed animals exhibited greater infection prevalence but not greater infection intensity or digestive gland changes than starved animals, suggesting that abalone acquire infections by ingesting contaminated food. Food, temperature, WS-RLP exposure, and most of their interactions had significant effects on body condition and foot atrophy. Immunohistochemical detection of cell proliferation and apoptosis revealed no differences between normal digestive gland and that infected with WS-RLP. Body mass shrinkage, foot atrophy, elevated mortality, and decreased foot and digestive gland glycogen were observed in both WS-affected and starved, unexposed abalone, with the WS-RLP-exposed, starved group held at elevated temperature faring worst. Among exposed and unexposed animals, food supply but not temperature affected body mass and growth. These data demonstrate that the high morbidity and mortality exhibited by WS-RLP-infected abalone is a consequence of disease and not direct thermal stress. Drug residue analysis indicated oxytetracycline concentrations of up to 600 ppm in the digestive gland at 38 days post-treatment, an unusual degree of tissue retention of this therapeutant.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-231
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Invertebrate Pathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2005


  • Abalone
  • Candidatus Xenohaliotis californiensis
  • El Niño
  • Starvation
  • Temperature
  • WS-RLP

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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