In 1957-1959, the introduced protistan parasite, Haplosporidium nelsoni, killed 90-95% of the oysters (Crassostrea virginica) in lower Delaware Bay and about half of those in the upper bay. Shortly thereafter, H. nelsoni-caused mortality in the wild population of the lower bay declined, approximating that of first-generation selectively bred oysters. For nearly three decades thereafter no further change in survival of the wild population was evident, although steady improvement was achieved by continued selective breeding. Survival of the wild population is thought to have plateaued because the great majority of oysters inhabited the upper bay where they were protected from H. nelsoni infection and selective mortality by low salinity. Consequently, they contributed most of the offspring to the bay population. From 1957 through 1987, H. nelsoni prevalence was cyclic, but overall high (annual maxima of 60 to 85%) in the lower bay. Since 1988, however, prevalence in wild oysters has rarely exceeded 30% anywhere in the bay, even though unselected oysters continue to become heavily infected when exposed, and molecular evidence indicates that the parasite remains present throughout the bay. This apparent "second step" in the development of resistance in the wild oysters occurred after a drought-associated incursion of H. nelsoni into the upper bay in the mid-1980s. Mortalities were widespread, heavy and more extreme than during the 1957-59 epizootic. Resistant survivors of the second epizootic have apparently repopulated the bay. When compared to unselected stocks, common-garden exposure to H. nelsoni of oysters from both upbay and downbay sites indicates that a high degree of resistance to the development of MSX disease has become widespread in the wild oyster population of Delaware Bay after two major selection events separated by nearly 30 years.
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