Relationships between temperature, bleaching and white syndrome on the Great Barrier Reef
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Coral bleaching and disease have often been hypothesized to be mutually reinforcing or co-occurring, but much of the research supporting this has only drawn an implicit connection through common environmental predictors. In this study, we examine whether an explicit relationship between white syndrome and bleaching exists using assemblage-level monitoring data from up to 112 sites on reef slopes spread throughout the Great Barrier Reef over 11 years of monitoring. None of the temperature metrics commonly used to predict mass bleaching performed strongly when applied to these data. Furthermore, the inclusion of bleaching as a predictor did not improve model skill over baseline models for predicting white syndrome. Similarly, the inclusion of white syndrome as a predictor did not improve models of bleaching. Evidence for spatial co-occurrence of bleaching and white syndrome at the assemblage level in this data set was also very weak. These results suggest the hypothesized relationship between bleaching and disease events may be weaker than previously thought, and more likely to be driven by common responses to environmental stressors, rather than directly facilitating one another.
KeywordsCoral reef ecology Multiple stressors Synergy Resilience Coral bleaching Coral disease
We thank Scott Heron and Jeff Maynard for assistance with temperature metric calculations, the members of the Australian Institute for Marine Science (AIMS) Long-term Monitoring Program for collecting these data, Angus Thompson and Hugh Sweatman for kindly providing the AIMS data sets and answering our questions about them, and feedback from Jonathan Belmaker and two anonymous reviewers that helped to improve this manuscript. This research was supported by the Australian Research Council and James Cook University.
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