Multiple mechanisms of transmission of the Caribbean coral disease white plague
White plague is one of the most devastating coral diseases in the Caribbean, and yet important aspects of its epidemiology, including how the disease transmits, remain unknown. This study tested potential mechanisms and rates of transmission of white plague in a laboratory setting. Transmission mechanisms including the transport of water, contact with macroalgae, and predation via corallivorous worms and snails were tested on the host species Orbicella annularis. Two of the tested mechanisms were shown to transmit disease: water transport and the corallivorous snail Coralliophila abbreviata. Between these transmission mechanisms, transport of water between a diseased coral and a healthy coral resulted in disease incidence significantly more frequently in exposed healthy corals. Transmission via water transport also occurred more quickly and was associated with higher rates of tissue loss (up to 3.5 cm d−1) than with the corallivorous snail treatment. In addition, water that was in contact with diseased corals but was filtered with a 0.22-μm filter prior to being introduced to apparently healthy corals also resulted in the transmission of disease signs, but at a much lower rate than when water was not filtered. This study has provided important information on the transmission potential of Caribbean white plague disease and highlights the need for a greater understanding of how these processes operate in the natural environment.
KeywordsCoral white plague Coral disease Caribbean coral reefs Disease transmission
We would like to thank T. B. Smith and S. Romano for assisting with the design of the experiment, and this paper was greatly improved by comments from three anonymous reviewers. Funding for the research was provided by VI Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR). This is contribution #115 from the Center of Marine and Environmental Studies at the University of the Virgin Islands.
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