A DIE-OFF of sea stars so massive that scientists believe it could be the largest disease epidemic ever observed, in wild marine animals has been linked in a new study to global warming.

Creatures with the sea star wasting disease simply fall apart and progress rapidly to death, often leaving a - a collection of ''disconnected limbs'',  researchers say.

Scientists believe a disease once of little concern has been wiping pout the sea star population because of warm waters.

''Increasingly warm or anomalous temperatures are being shown to influence the prevalence and severity of marine infections diseases,'' noted the study published Thursday in the journal Science of Advances.

Researchers discovered that sea star devastation appeared to be particularly marked where a water temperatures are highest, such as shallow waters near the shore - though ocean water temperatures are generally also increasing.

The ''marine heat wave'' is triggering a ''continental scale collapse of a pivotal predator,'' the study notes. Since 2013, sea star wasting disease has caused ''massive, ongoing mortality from Mexico to Alaska, the study states.

''What we think is that the warm water anomalies made these starfish more susceptible to the disease that was already out there,'' study author Joe Gaylos, the science director of the SeaDoc Society at the University of California at Davos, told NPR.

''To think that the warmer water temperature itself can cause animals to get disease quicker - is a kind of one-two punch,'' Gaylos added. ''It's a little  nerve .

The study did not determine exactly how the warmth may have exacerbated the disease, only that it appeared more devastating the higher the temperature.
Waters growing increasingly warm are known to be more stressful to sea creatures, likely causing challenges to their immune system.

Dying sea stars can trigger a cascading ecological collapse as animals that depend on the creatures suffer in turn - and animals the sea stars eat can proliferate in destructive numbers once the sea stars are gone.

The population of sea urchins once eaten by healthy sea stars has exploded in areas without the predators. the urchins gobble up sea kelp, destroying kelp forest ecosystems. [Agencies]


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