White spot syndrome virus and the Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus: Susceptibility and behavioral immunity

Erica Ross, Donald Behringer, Jamie Bojko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus is susceptible to infection by Panulirus argus Virus 1 (PaV1), the only virus known to naturally infect any lobster species. However, P. argus is able to mitigate PaV1 transmission risk
by avoiding infected individuals. P. argus may also be susceptible to another lethal virus, White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV). WSSV has not been documented in wild populations of spiny lobsters, but has been experimentally transmitted to six other lobster species from the genus Panulirus. Although WSSV has been detected intermittently in wild populations of shrimp in the Caribbean region, the risk to P. argus has not been evaluated. Potential emergence of the disease could result in fisheries losses and ecological disruption. To assess the risk to P. argus, we tested its susceptibility to WSSV via injection and waterborne transmission.
We also tested whether healthy lobsters can detect and avoid conspecifics with qPCR-quantifiable WSSV infections. We found P. argus to be highly susceptible to WSSV via intramuscular injection, with mortality reaching 88% four weeks post inoculation. Panulirus argus was also susceptible to WSSV via waterborne transmission, but WSSV burden was low after four weeks via qPCR. Behavioral assays indicated that P. argus can detect and avoid
conspecifics infected with WSSV and the avoidance response was strongest for the most heavily infected individuals – a response comparable to PaV1-infected conspecifics. Panulirus argus is the first spiny lobster found to be susceptible to WSSV in the Americas, but it is possible that a generalized avoidance response by healthy lobsters against infected conspecifics provides a behavioral defense and may reduce WSSV infection potential
and prevalence. Preliminary evidence suggests that the infiltration of hemolymph constituents into the urine may be the source of the avoidance behavior and could therefore extend to other directly transmitted pathogens in spiny lobster populations preventing them from becoming common in their population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
JournalJournal of Invertebrate Pathology
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2019


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