Crown-of-thorns starfish predation and physical injuries promote brown band disease on corals

Katz, Sefano M., Pollock, F. Joseph, Bourne, D.G., and Willis, Bette L. (2014) Crown-of-thorns starfish predation and physical injuries promote brown band disease on corals. Coral Reefs, 33 (3). pp. 705-716.

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Brown band (BrB) disease manifests on corals as a ciliate-dominated lesion that typically progresses rapidly causing extensive mortality, but it is unclear whether the dominant ciliate Porpostoma guamense is a primary or an opportunistic pathogen, the latter taking advantage of compromised coral tissue or depressed host resistance. In this study, manipulative aquarium-based experiments were used to investigate the role of P. guamense as a pathogen when inoculated onto fragments of the coral Acropora hyacinthus that were either healthy, preyed on by Acanthaster planci (crown-of-thorns starfish; COTS), or experimentally injured. Following ciliate inoculation, BrB lesions developed on all of COTS-predated fragments (n = 9 fragments) and progressed up to 4.6 ± 0.3 cm d−1, resulting in ~70 % of coral tissue loss after 4 d. Similarly, BrB lesions developed rapidly on experimentally injured corals and ~38 % of coral tissue area was lost 60 h after inoculation. In contrast, no BrB lesions were observed on healthy corals following experimental inoculations. A choice experiment demonstrated that ciliates are strongly attracted to physically injured corals, with over 55 % of inoculated ciliates migrating to injured corals and forming distinct lesions, whereas ciliates did not migrate to healthy corals. Our results indicate that ciliates characteristic of BrB disease are opportunistic pathogens that rapidly migrate to and colonise compromised coral tissue, leading to rapid coral mortality, particularly following predation or injury. Predicted increases in tropical storms, cyclones, and COTS outbreaks are likely to increase the incidence of coral injury in the near future, promoting BrB disease and further contributing to declines in coral cover.

Item ID: 36245
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: coral disease, brown band disease, Porpostoma guamense, opportunistic pathogen, crown-of-thorns starfish, injury
Funders: Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (ARC CoE Coral Reef Studies)
Date Deposited: 12 Nov 2014 10:43
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960507 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Marine Environments @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 50%
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