Invasion of alien parasite halted; California coast cleared of African worm in abalone

Hope is a word rarely heard in regard to invading pest species from other continents. This is particularly true in the ocean where biologists have considered attempts to get rid of introduced pests to be futile.

Until now.

Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara have solved the problem of the case of an invading worm from South Africa -- one that settles in the shell of the abalone. Now they have hope. They do not accept the prevailing "you'll have to live with it" philosophy.

Scientists had never before eradicated an established pest population, according to Armand M. Kuris, professor of zoology, at UC, Santa Barbara.

(For the squeamish, it should be noted that this parasitic worm does not invade the abalone meat, and has never been a health threat. Instead, it manages to embed itself in the developing shell of the abalone, getting the growing abalone to seal it off into its own tiny fluted home near the opening of the shell where it sticks out a little filter feeding tube into the water.)

In his paper "Beyond Fatalism: The Apparent Eradication of an Established Introduced Marine Pest in California," Kuris will describe the news on Monday, August 16 at, at the conference "Managing for Ecosystem Health, the International Congress on Ecosystem Health."

The story began when Kuris got a distress call from an abalone grower in 1993. Something was desperately wrong with his stock. Abalone shells were becoming deformed. Their growth was stunted. Their respiratory holes were not growing properly. And instead of being one of the hardest materials known to man, these abalone shells were brittle and crumbled easily.

Kuris inspected the ailing abalone and discovered a microscopic worm that settled around the aperture of the abalone. It's never even been named -- it's simply referred to as a type of worm, "the sabellid pest". At first Kuris didn't know if the worm was l

Contact: Gail Brown
University of California - Santa Barbara

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