, Volume 460, Issue 1–3, pp 53–63 | Cite as

Yellow band and dark spot syndromes in Caribbean corals: distribution, rate of spread, cytology, and effects on abundance and division rate of zooxanthellae

  • J. Cervino
  • T. J. Goreau
  • I. Nagelkerken
  • G. W. Smith
  • R. Hayes


Yellow band and dark spot syndromes have been frequently observed to affect coral species throughout the Caribbean within the last 10 years. These syndromes significantly impair at least three important reef-building species. Yellow band (also known as yellow blotch) appears as rings or blotches on Montastrea annularis throughout the Caribbean. The coral tissue necrosis occurs at a rate of approximately 0.6 cm/month. Transect measurements at various locations indicated that as many as 90% of M. annularis were affected by yellow band during 1997–98. Tissue samples reveal a 41–96.9% decrease in zooxanthellae/sample compared to healthy specimens, depending on distance from healthy tissue. Mitotic indices (MI) of zooxanthellae (symbiotic algae appearing as doublets) for M. annularis are 2.5%. MI in yellow band samples directly bordering healthy tissue are less than 0.9%, and zooxanthellae directly within the band bordering exposed skeleton had a mitotic index of 0.0%. This indicates impairment of zooxanthellae cell division in yellow band specimens. Zooxanthellae are not expelled and appear vacuolated and devoid of organelles. Dark spot, characterized by tissue necrosis as well as a depression of the colony surface, affects Stephanocoenia michelinii and Siderastrea siderea throughout the Caribbean. Transects showed that as many as 56% of S. michelinii and S. siderea showed signs of dark spot during 1997–98. Affected tissues of S. siderea died at a rate of 4.0 cm/month. In dark spot samples from S. siderea, the total number of zooxanthellae was 56% of that in healthy tissue; dark spot-affected specimens of S. michelinii showed a 14% decrease in the number of zooxanthellae compared to healthy tissue samples. Mitotic indices of zooxanthellae from healthy specimens of S. sidereawere 1.20% compared to 0.40% in dark spot samples. Mitotic indices of healthy S. michelinii were 1.54% compared to 0.23% in dark spot samples, also indicating a decrease in algal cell division. Zooxanthellae from dark spot tissue are swollen and darker in pigment. Due to the changes that are evident in the symbiotic algae, we suggest that both syndromes act primarily on the zooxanthellae symbiont, and secondarily on the cnidarian host.

mitotic index zooxanthellae yellow band and dark spot 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Cervino
    • 1
    • 2
  • T. J. Goreau
    • 1
  • I. Nagelkerken
    • 3
  • G. W. Smith
    • 4
  • R. Hayes
    • 5
  1. 1.Global Coral Reef AllianceChappaquaU.S.A.
  2. 2.University of South CarolinaColumbiaU.S.A.
  3. 3.University of NijmegenThe Netherlands
  4. 4.University of South CarolinaColumbiaU.S.A.
  5. 5.Howard UniversityWashingtonU.S.A.

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