FFAR Vet Student Fellow Research Spotlight

Investigating the Rapid Decline of the Long Island Sound American Lobster

One of a series of essays by FFAR Vet Fellows on their research preparing them for careers that address urgent issues threatening animal health, global food security and sustainable animal production.

  • Advanced Animal Systems

FFAR Vet Fellowships supports research to stop the decline of Long Island Sound lobster.

Until about 25 years ago, the Long Island Sound was home to a thriving lobster industry, generating millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs for the Connecticut and New York fishing industry.

However, elevated ocean temperatures, happening earlier in the year, resulted in altered molting patterns of the juvenile American lobster (Homarus americanus) population of the Long Island Sound. Not only does molting allow these lobsters to grow, but it also serves as a defense mechanism against disease and parasites. Combined with emerging pathogens and shifts in the bacterial communities of the surrounding waters, these elements provided the perfect storm for the unfortunate decline of these Long Island Sound lobster.

With support from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Long Island University, as well as funding provided by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) through the FFAR Veterinary Student Research Fellowship (FFAR Vet Fellows), I have conducted research to identify the etiologic agent responsible for erosive lesions found on these lobsters, as well as the genetic and environmental contributing factors that have contributed to the recent, rapid decline in the Long Island Sound lobster population since the late 1990’s.

My research resulted in a paper I’ve published, ”Carapace microbiota in American lobsters (Homarus americanus) associated with epizootic shell disease and the green gland,”which I hope will inform further research to reverse the decline of this economically important commodity for the U.S. shellfish industry and Long Island Sound ecosystem.

I believe the ocean will provide a sustainable, integral source of protein for the masses in the future, as we strive to detach from and modify the unsustainable methods of industrial agriculture and treat the ocean with the respect it deserves. Anna Schaubeck
2021 FFAR Veterinary Student Research Fellow, College of Veterinary Medicine at Long Island University

As An Undergraduate I Had Only Begun to Scratch the Surface

As a marine science major at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, I had only begun to scratch the surface of the complexities of the ocean, its inhabitants, and the relation to our changing climate. My experience studying the effects of ocean acidification, namely rising carbon dioxide levels and ocean temperatures, on staghorn coral growth has major implications for the biodiversity and longevity of our reefs. Additionally, preserving the many biological services they provide us, such as structural barriers from natural disasters, possible sources of medicine and ultimately, food, should be enough incentive to act to prevent their demise. However, like many issues of our time, it seems to be out of sight-out of mind for those who it does not imminently pose a threat.

My decision to pursue veterinary medicine granted me the opportunity to continue studying marine science, while simultaneously pursuing my passion for helping animals, with the ultimate goal of making a global, lasting impact.

Close up under water of an American lobster’s head
Climate change is threatening the American lobster (Homarus americanus) population of the Long Island Sound.

Cockroaches of the Sea

Once considered the “cockroaches of the sea” by newly-landed American colonists, the lobster has since risen and justifiably earned its place in the food world’s creme de la crème of shellfish. Its unsightly exoskeleton protects the succulent meat that has captured both the imagination and tastebuds of the finest chefs worldwide. Whether it be a casual lobster bisque from a favorite road-side food truck or a butter-poached lobster tail from the disciplined kitchen of a three-Michelin star restaurant, people can enjoy the wide versatility of its flavors.

About This Research

The American lobster is an economically important commodity for the U.S. shellfish industry. Epizootic shell disease (ESD) is an infection on the shell, which can lead to secondary infections or death. This emerging disease is associated with warming seawater temperatures, caused by climate change. Schaubeck is using computational tools to identify ESD-associated microbiota changes in American lobsters and genes that are associated with protection against ESD. This work protects a valuable industry from changing climate impacts.

FFAR Vet Fellowships Provide Research Opportunities Focused on Global Food Security &  Sustainable Animal Production.

Population growth, climate change, emerging infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance threaten sustainable livestock production globally. Veterinarians trained in multi-species medicine, animal science and public health are key to addressing these challenges. However, despite the growing need for this expertise, few funding opportunities exist for veterinary students to gain experience in these research areas.

FFAR partnered with the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) to create a three-month summer fellowship for veterinary students to prepare future veterinarians for research and public service careers. The FFAR Vet Fellowship provides unique research opportunities focused on global food security and sustainable animal production.

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