Black band disease of corals: Ecology and physiology of Phormidium corallyticum

Kevin G Kuta, Florida International University


Black band disease of corals consists of a microbial community dominated by the cyanobacteriurn Phormidium corallyticum. The disease primarily affects reef-framework coral species, Active black band disease continually opens up new substrate in reef environments by destroying coral tissue as the disease line advances across the surface of infected colonies. A field study was carried out to determine the abundance and distribution of black band disease on the reef building corals in the Florida Keys. During July of 1992 and 1993, up to 0.72% of coral colonies were infected with black band disease. Analysis of the distribution showed that the disease was clumped. Seasonal patters varied, with some coral colonies infected year round, others exhibiting reinfection from summer 1992 to summer 1993, and some colonies infected for one year only. Statistical analysis of black band disease incidence in relation to various environmental parameters revealed that black band disease was associated with relatively shallow water depths, higher temperatures, elevated nitrite levels, and decreased ortho-phosphate levels. Additional field studies determined recovery of scleractinian coral colonies damaged or killed through the activities of black band disease over a five-year period. These studies determined if the newly exposed substrate was recolonized through scleractinian recruitment, if there was overgrowth of the damaged areas by the formerly diseased colony, or if coral tissue destruction continued after the cessation of black band disease activity. Tissue loss continued on all coral colonies with only one colony exhibiting new tissue growth. The majority of recolonization was by non-reef-framework corals and octocorallians, limited recruitment by framework species was observed. Physiological studies of P. corallyticum were carried out to investigate the photosynthetic capacity of this cyanobacterium, and to determine if this species has the ability to fix dinitrogen. The results of this research demonstrated that P. corallyticum reaches maximum photosynthetic rates at very low light intensities (27.9 μE/m/sec), and that P. corallyticum is able to carry out oxygenic photosynthesis in the presence of sulfide, an ability that is uncommon in prokaryotic organisms.

Subject Area

Ecology|Microbiology|Oceanography|Aquaculture|Fish production

Recommended Citation

Kuta, Kevin G, "Black band disease of corals: Ecology and physiology of Phormidium corallyticum" (2000). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3004858.