Tal Ben-Horin PhD
Tal Ben-Horin is an Assistant Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University. He completed his graduate work (Master of Environmental Science and Management and PhD) at the University of California Santa Barbara and a Bachelor of Science at the University of Vermont. He leads the Shellfish Pathology Laboratory at NC State where his research group explores pathology and disease impacts associated with global aquaculture expansion.
SHORT DESCRIPTION OF INTERESTS:
My research explores how marine aquaculture’s global expansion has transformed marine ecosystems and how these transformations impact disease-causing pathogens, particularly in the context of environmental change. Ongoing projects in my lab are investigating how selecting for disease resistance in open-water shellfish aquaculture can influence disease impacts to coastal ecosystems, how triploid oysters respond to multiple environmental stressors, and how shellfisheries can serve as both a sentinel and vector for human exposure to algae toxins. All my work is inherently interdisciplinary and I look forward to establishing new collaborations in environmental and ocean modeling, marine microbial ecology, fisheries science, and economics.
- Pathogenic Vibrio parahaemolyticus Increase in Intertidal-Farmed Oysters in the Mid-Atlantic Region, but Only at Low Tide , NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF AQUACULTURE (2021)
- Modeling Pathogen Dispersal in Marine Fish and Shellfish , TRENDS IN PARASITOLOGY (2020)
- Modeling pathogen dispersal in marine fish and shellfish , Trends in Parasitology (2020)
- Modelling marine diseases , MARINE DISEASE ECOLOGY (2020)
- Models with environmental drivers offer a plausible mechanism for the rapid spread of infectious disease outbreaks in marine organisms , Scientific Reports (2020)
- Defining Dermo resistance phenotypes in an eastern oyster breeding population , Aquaculture Research (2019)
- Genetic variation in anti-parasite behavior in oysters , Marine Ecology Progress Series (2018)
- Intensive oyster aquaculture can reduce disease impacts on sympatric wild oysters , Aquaculture Environment Interactions (2018)
- Quality of a fished resource: Assessing spatial and temporal dynamics , PloS one (2018)
- Modeling the transmission of Perkinsus marinus in the Eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica , Fisheries Research (2017)
Atlantic Pigtoe, Dwarf Wedgemussel, Yellow Lance, and Tar River Spinymussel are four imperiled mussel species whose habitats lie within and may be affected by construction in the 540 project area. In order to address conservation needs for this species, tools must be developed that will allow researchers and natural resource managers to examine and monitor their health, including genetic fitness. In this project, we propose to analyze the current genetic diversity, population structure, and effective population sizes of these four species using molecular markers (single nucleotide polymorphisms, SNPs). These SNPs will then be used to establish standardized panels for each species that can be used to monitor genetic diversity and hatchery contribution as populations are augmented or reintroduced. We will also examine the overall fitness of the four target species within priority watersheds and hatcheries (Yates Mill Aquatic Conservation Center and NC Wildlife Resources Commission Conservation Aquaculture Center) by examining microbial, fungal, and viral communities through the use of histology and genetic sequencing, and using the field of â€œ-omicsâ€ ( metabolomics, proteomics, transcriptomics) to define and compare levels of fitness between and within wild, restored, and hatchery held populations and individuals. After establishing a baseline of health and fitness, we will develop a suite of biomarkers and mussel health metrics that can be used to assess the health and fitness of mussel populations and that can be used to inform management actions, hatchery operations, and species restoration efforts. Finally, we will define and begin implementation of quantifiable conservation targets based on the tools developed in the previous two objectives. We will synthesize the research completed in the first two objectives to set measurable conservation targets for each of the four priority species through a use of various models and workshops. We then expand the techniques from objectives 1 and 2 to evaluate the conservation targets.
Recent years have seen recurring spring mortality events impact oyster fisheries and aquaculture throughout North Carolina and locations all across the Southeast. Mortality approaching 30% is common, and in some years has exceeded 85% of oysters planted at numerous sites across North Carolinaâ€™s Sounds and the lower Chesapeake Bay. Most reports are from adult, sub-market sized triploid oysters, but wild and cultured diploids, as well as smaller seed oysters, have also seen similarly timed mortality events. These events do not seem to be associated with known oyster pathogens and disease but do seem to follow large rain events in the spring. The only unusual sign of pathology is increased inflammation in the gills, and the timing of these mortality events corresponds with seasonal peaks in gametogenic development in diploids. These observations suggest that oyster physiology and energetics interact with water quality changes and environmental stress to drive pathology. Our objective is to test how metabolic changes in oysters through the spring and summer drive oyster microbiota and pathology. We will quantify these changes across eight sites, six in North Carolina and two in Virginia, using hatchery-produced diploid and triploid oyster lines, testing whether triploid oysters are more sensitive to physiological changes and spring mortality events as compared to diploids. Our goal is to identify metabolic processes and microbes associated with spring mortality events, which will allow us to better identify water quality risks to North Carolina oyster fisheries and aquaculture while assessing how to move industries forward in the face of continued spring mortality.
Disease constrains sustainable aquaculture production. Oyster hatcheries and breeding programs have responded by developing disease resistant oyster stocks, which has proven to be an effective management tool for several diseases (DÃ©gremont et al. 2015). Selectively-bred oysters resist infection with diseasecausing parasites (Ben-Horin et al. 2018a) and even tolerate disease impacts by continuing to survive even when infected (Proestou et al. 2016). However, our recent work indicates that disentangling genetic variation for either disease resistance or disease tolerance can be a complex process for oyster hatcheries and breeding programs. For example, resistance to the endemic oyster parasite Perkinsus marinus covaries with tolerance to the disease this parasite causes, a fatal condition known as dermo disease. That is, selectively-bred oysters that survive and perform well when faced with dermo disease do little to resist P. marinus infection. In addition, by maintaining oyster stocks that perform well and survive when faced with disease, we are finding that oyster hatcheries and breeding programs effectively select for tolerance, and not necessarily resistance. This can often lead to counterintuitive outcomes when disease impacts extend beyond individual oyster farms to entire oyster populations throughout estuary ecosystems (Ben- Horin et al. 2018b). When aquaculture production relies on oysters bred to tolerate disease but not resist infection, disease prevalence and its impact increase in cultured oyster populations and in wild oyster populations nearby. With dermo disease impacts predicted to increase with ocean warming (Ford & Smolowitz 2007; Burge et al. 2014), it is imperative that we take an integrative approach to maximize aquaculture production while minimizing impacts to surrounding marine ecosystems. We aim to integrate laboratory experiments quantifying resistance and tolerance in hatchery and wild oyster stocks with traitbased epidemiological models to predict how selective breeding influences dermo disease and oyster performance under varying environmental conditions and its driving influence on disease dynamics. We have developed this proposed research in collaboration with another group led by Dr. Fulweiler submitting a pre-proposal to RI Sea Grant to then test these predictions with mesocosm experiments varying temperature to mimic the long-term expected rise in coastal water temperatures with climate change. Our parallel approach integrating targeted laboratory experiments, dynamic models, and data collected through mesocosm experiments will improve our capacity to predict and forecast host-parasite dynamics and its consequences for oyster performance and sustainable aquaculture production in a changing ocean.
Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (CHABs) adversely affect estuaries and marine sounds as excess biomass leads to discoloration, odor issues, decreased oxygen levels, and subsequent fish kills. Concerns about exposure risks from cyanobacterial toxins through drinking water and food web transfer via shellfish have risen dramatically throughout the world. These concerns have also become a focal point in North Carolina, where efforts to restore natural oyster reefs and the emerging oyster farming industry could be heavily impacted, the latter of which is expected to grow to $100 million by 2030. The extent to which shellfish serve as biotoxin vectors to humans is unknown despite CHABs being a recurrent phenomenon and toxin presence reported throughout North Carolina waters as well as across marine and estuarine food webs. Phycotoxins harm humans in varying ways and the lack of data on toxin loads in shellfish impedes assessing human exposure risks, inhibiting mitigation strategies and the development of forecasting tools. This pilot project will address these knowledge gaps by leveraging CHHE core resources to build existing and new collaborations between scientists and oyster industry partners across North Carolina. We aim to identify dominant toxin-producing cyanobacteria species in North Carolinaâ€™s shellfish growing areas and quantify toxin loads in farm-raised oysters. Developing this collaborative information-gathering framework will be crucial to develop follow-up studies addressing links between environmental variability and public health in coastal food production systems.
- Expertise: Climate/Environmental Change
- College: College of Veterinary Medicine
- Themes: Coupled human and natural systems
- Expertise: Marine and Aquatic Ecosystems
- Expertise: Modeling
- Themes: Mutually beneficial engagement that emphasizes social equity
- Themes: Sustainable agriculture, forestry, and rural, natural resource-based economies
- Themes: Water quality and quantity in the coastal zone