Ecological physiology of a coral pathogen and the coral reef environment

  • Remily E
  • Richardson L
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Laboratory studies on the ecological physiology of a coral pathogen were carried out to investigate growth potential in terms of environmental factors that may control coral diseases on reefs. The disease chosen for this study, white plague type II, is considered to be one of the major diseases of Caribbean scleractinian corals, affecting a wide range of coral hosts and causing rapid and widespread tissue loss. It is caused by a single pathogen, the bacterium Aurantimonas coralicida. A series of laboratory experiments using a pure culture of the pathogen was carried out to examine the roles of temperature, pH, and O(2) concentration on growth rate. Results revealed optimal growth between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius, and between pH values of 6 and 8. There was a distinctive synergistic relationship between pH and temperature. Increasing temperature from 25 to 35 degrees Celsius expanded the range of pH tolerance from a minimum of 6.0 down to 5.0. O(2) concentration directly affected growth rate, which increased with increasing O(2). The combined effects of increasing O(2) and increasing temperature resulted in a synergistic effect of more rapid growth. These laboratory results are discussed in terms of the coral host and the range of the environmental factors that occur on coral reefs. We conclude that changing environmental conditions in the reef environment, in particular observed increases in water temperature, may be promoting coral diseases by allowing coral pathogens to expand their ecological niches. In the case of the white plague type II pathogen, elevated temperature would allow A. coralicida to colonize the low pH environment of the coral surface mucopolysaccharide layer as an initial stage of infection. The synergistic effect between temperature and oxygen concentration appeared to be less environmentally relevant for this coral pathogen.

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  • Elizabeth R. Remily

  • Laurie L. Richardson

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