Seasonal rainfall and runoff promote coral disease on an inshore reef

Haapkylä, Jessica, Unsworth, Richard K.F., Flavell, Mike, Bourne, David G., Schaffelke, Britta, and Willis, Bette L. (2011) Seasonal rainfall and runoff promote coral disease on an inshore reef. PLoS ONE, 6 (2). e16893. pp. 1-10.

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Background: Declining water quality coupled with the effects of climate change are rapidly increasing coral diseases on reefs worldwide, although links between coral diseases and environmental parameters remain poorly understood. This is the first study to document a correlation between coral disease and water quality on an inshore reef.

Methodology/Principal Findings: The temporal dynamics of the coral disease atramentous necrosis (AN) was investigated over two years within inshore populations of Montipora aequituberculata in the central Great Barrier Reef, in relation to rainfall, salinity, temperature, water column chlorophyll a, suspended solids, sedimentation, dissolved organic carbon, and particulate nitrogen, phosphorus and organic carbon. Overall, mean AN prevalence was 10-fold greater during summer wet seasons than winter dry seasons. A 2.5-fold greater mean disease abundance was detected during the summer of 2009 (44 ± SE 6.7 diseased colonies per 25 m2), when rainfall was 1.6-fold greater than in the summer of 2008. Two water quality parameters explained 67% of the variance in monthly disease prevalence in a Partial Least Squares regression analysis; disease abundance was negatively correlated with salinity (R2 = −0.6) but positively correlated with water column particulate organic carbon concentration (R2 = 0.32). Seasonal temperature patterns were also positively correlated with disease abundance, but explained only a small portion of the variance.

Conclusions/Significance: The results suggest that rainfall and associated runoff may facilitate seasonal disease outbreaks, potentially by reducing host fitness or by increasing pathogen virulence due to higher availability of nutrients and organic matter. In the future, rainfall and seawater temperatures are likely to increase due to climate change which may lead to decreased health of inshore reefs.

Item ID: 20169
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1932-6203
Additional Information:

© 2011 Haapkylä et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2012 04:39
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
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