Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences








Eelgrass creates critical coastal habitats worldwide and fulfills essential ecosystem functions as a foundation seagrass. Climate warming and disease threaten eelgrass, causing mass mortalities and cascading ecological impacts. Subtidal meadows are deeper than intertidal and may also provide refuge from the temperature-sensitive seagrass wasting disease. From cross-boundary surveys of 5761 eelgrass leaves from Alaska to Washington and assisted with a machine-language algorithm, we measured outbreak conditions. Across summers 2017 and 2018, disease prevalence was 16% lower for subtidal than intertidal leaves; in both tidal zones, disease risk was lower for plants in cooler conditions. Even in subtidal meadows, which are more environmentally stable and sheltered from temperature and other stressors common for intertidal eelgrass, we observed high disease levels, with half of the sites exceeding 50% prevalence. Models predicted reduced disease prevalence and severity under cooler conditions, confirming a strong interaction between disease and temperature. At both tidal zones, prevalence was lower in more dense eelgrass meadows, suggesting disease is suppressed in healthy, higher density meadows. These results underscore the value of subtidal eelgrass and meadows in cooler locations as refugia, indicate that cooling can suppress disease, and have implications for eelgrass conservation and management under future climate change scenarios.

Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

National Science Foundation


climate change, climate refugia, eelgrass, Labyrinthula zosterae, marine disease, seagrass wasting disease


This is a post-peer-review, pre-copy edit version of an article published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Volume 378, Issue 1873, 2023. The final authenticated version is available online at:


Urban and Regional Planning