Coral disease dynamics and environmental drivers in the northern Florida Keys and Lee Stocking Island, Bahamas

Joshua Daniel Voss, Florida International University


Coral reefs are experiencing declines worldwide and recently coral diseases have been identified as significant contributors to coral mortality. However, little is known regarding the factors that drive coral disease distributions and dynamics. Current knowledge of the organisms that cause coral diseases is also limited, with pathogens having been identified for only 5 of the 21 described coral diseases. The study presented here describes coral disease dynamics in terms of occurrence, prevalence, spatial distribution, and host species susceptibility from 2002--2004 on reefs of the Northern Florida Keys (NFK) and Lee Stocking Island (LSI) in the Bahamas' Exuma chain. In addition, this research investigated the influence of temperature, sediment, and nutrient availability on coral disease prevalence and severity. Finally, microbial communities associated with a polymicrobial disease, black band, were examined to address spatial and temporal variability. Four scleractinian diseases were observed in repeated surveys conducted during June-August of each year: black band disease (BBD), white plague type 2 (WP), dark spots syndrome (DSS), and yellow band disease-(YBD). Coral disease prevalence was generally low in both the NFK and LSI as compared to epizootic levels reported previously in the NFK and other regions of the Caribbean. Disease prevalence and species susceptibility varied spatially and temporally. Massive framework species, including Siderastrea siderea, Colpophyllia natans, and Montastraea annularis, along with relatively smaller colonies of Meandrina meandrites and Dichocoenia stokesi, were most susceptible to disease. Temperature, sedimentation, and dissolved inorganic nitrogen were positively correlated with BBD infections. Furthermore, experimental nutrient enrichment exacerbated coral tissue loss to BBD both in situ and in vivo. Profiling of BBD microbial communities using length heterogeneity PCR revealed variation over space and time, with significantly distinct bacterial assemblages in the NFK, LSI, and US Virgin Islands. This study contributes to knowledge of the relationship between coral diseases and the environment, and facilitates predictions regarding potential changes in coral reef communities under differing environmental conditions. Additionally, this research provides further understanding of coral disease dynamics at both the host and microbial pathogen levels.

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Recommended Citation

Voss, Joshua Daniel, "Coral disease dynamics and environmental drivers in the northern Florida Keys and Lee Stocking Island, Bahamas" (2006). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3235620.