Coral Reefs

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 233–242 | Cite as

Towards a better understanding of white syndromes and their causes on Indo-Pacific coral reefs

  • D. G. BourneEmail author
  • T. D. Ainsworth
  • F. J. Pollock
  • B. L. Willis


Disease is increasingly recognized as a threat to coral reef ecosystems, particularly in the light of increasing anthropogenic disturbances that disrupt important symbiotic partnerships within the coral holobiont. White syndromes (WSs) are a prevalent group of coral diseases in the Indo-Pacific region that have been the focus of an increasing number of investigations over the past decade. Here, we summarize the current state of knowledge on WSs, advocate the use of established standardized criteria to describe disease lesions at gross and cellular levels to move the field forward, and highlight potential erroneous characterization of underlying causes that hinders ongoing progress in coral disease research. We argue for retention of the general term WSs for Indo-Pacific cases of tissue loss lacking distinguishing macroscopic signs and with unknown aetiologies, but erection of more specific names once standardized criteria are met. Recent advances in WS disease pathology, microbial ecology, physiology, ecology and environmental drivers are discussed and the need for greater application of interdisciplinary approaches is emphasized. Following recent widespread reports of WSs on coral reefs, a clear, concise perspective is needed to provide a focus for further research and avoid confusion in the study of this virulent group of diseases.


Coral disease White syndromes Indo-Pacific 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. G. Bourne
    • 1
    Email author
  • T. D. Ainsworth
    • 2
    • 3
  • F. J. Pollock
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
  • B. L. Willis
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Centre for Marine Microbiology and GeneticsAustralian Institute of Marine ScienceTownsville MCAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.School of Pharmacy and Molecular SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  4. 4.College of Marine and Environmental SciencesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  5. 5.AIMS@JCU, Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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