Coral Reefs

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 807–819 | Cite as

Bleaching, disease and recovery in the threatened scleractinian coral Acropora palmata in St. John, US Virgin Islands: 2003–2010

  • C. S. RogersEmail author
  • E. M. Muller


A long-term study of the scleractinian coral Acropora palmata in the US Virgin Islands (USVI) showed that diseases, particularly white pox, are limiting the recovery of this threatened species. Colonies of A. palmata in Haulover Bay, within Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, were examined monthly in situ for signs of disease and other stressors from January 2003 through December 2009. During the study, 89.9 % of the colonies (n = 69) exhibited disease, including white pox (87 %), white band (13 %), and unknown (9 %). Monthly disease prevalence ranged from 0 to 57 %, and disease was the most significant cause of complete colony mortality (n = 17). A positive correlation was found between water temperature and disease prevalence, but not incidence. Annual average disease prevalence and incidence remained constant during the study. Colonies generally showed an increase in the estimated amount of total living tissue from growth, but 25 (36.2 %) of the colonies died. Acropora palmata bleached in the USVI for the first time during the 2005 Caribbean bleaching event. Only one of the 23 colonies that bleached appeared to die directly from bleaching. In 2005, corals that bleached had greater disease prevalence than those that did not bleach. Just over half (52 %) of the colonies incurred some physical damage. Monitoring of fragments (broken branches) that were generated by physical damage through June 2007 showed that 46.1 % died and 28.4 % remained alive; the fragments that attached to the substrate survived longer than those that did not. Recent surveys showed an increase in the total number of colonies within the reef area, formed from both asexual and sexual reproduction. Genotype analysis of 48 of the originally monitored corals indicated that 43 grew from sexual recruits supporting the conclusion that both asexual and sexual reproduction are contributing to an increase in colony density at this site.


Acropora palmata Population recovery Coral disease Coral bleaching Water temperature 



Many people have been involved in the challenging research described in this paper. Special thanks to T. Spitzack, A. Bright, R. Brewer, and J. Herlan for heroic efforts in the field. Thanks to B. Devine and C. McManus who were there at the very beginning. Thanks also to National Park Service biologists (C. Stengel, S. Caseau, and J. Hopkins) and to volunteers K. Vahling, C. Kauffman, H. Smart, C. Beckowitz, P. Nieves, J. Perry, P. Gravinese, and D. Holstein. We also wish to thank R. Boulon, Virgin Islands National Park, T. Smith, University of the Virgin Islands, and M. Miller (NOAA) for their support. T. Work, D. Williams, J. Miller and four anonymous reviewers made helpful comments on the manuscript. This research was funded and/or supported by the US Geological Survey, the National Park Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of the Virgin Islands. Support for E. Muller was also provided by a NOAA Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship and a Mote Marine Laboratory Postdoctoral Fellowship. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.US Geological SurveySoutheast Ecological Science CenterSt. JohnUSA
  2. 2.Mote Marine LaboratorySarasotaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida Institute of TechnologyMelbourneUSA

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