, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 585-595

The corallivorous invertebrate Drupella aids in transmission of brown band disease on the Great Barrier Reef

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Abstract

Brown band disease (BrB) is an increasingly prevalent coral disease in the Indo-Pacific, but although the macroscopic signs of BrB have been associated with the ciliate Philaster guamensis, many aspects of its ecology remain unknown, particularly how the disease is transmitted among coral colonies. The aim of this study was to assess biotic factors affecting BrB transmission, explicitly testing whether corallivorous species contribute to disease spread. Several fish species were observed feeding on diseased tissue in the field, but did not influence either the progression or transmission rates of BrB on coral colonies in situ. In aquarium-based experiments, the butterflyfish Chaetodon aureofasciatus neither aided nor hindered the transmission of BrB from infected to uninfected corals. In contrast, the coral-feeding gastropod Drupella sp. was a highly effective vector of BrB, infecting more than 40 % of experimental colonies. This study also demonstrated the importance of injury in facilitating BrB infection, supporting the hypothesis that the BrB pathogen invades compromised coral tissue. In conclusion, disturbances and corallivorous activities that injure live corals are likely to contribute to increased occurrence of BrB provided that feeding scars create entry wounds sufficiently extensive to facilitate infection. These findings increase the understanding of the ecology of BrB, enabling better predictions of the prevalence and severity of this disease, and informing strategies for managing the impact of BrB on coral reefs.

Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Mark Vermeij