Marine Biology

, Volume 155, Issue 3, pp 281–292 | Cite as

Variation in measures of immunocompetence of sea fan coral, Gorgonia ventalina, in the Florida Keys

  • C. S. Couch
  • L. D. MydlarzEmail author
  • C. D. Harvell
  • N. L. Douglas
Original Paper


Aspergillosis is a widespread disease that has impacted the demography of the Caribbean sea fan coral, Gorgonia ventalina. The innate coral immune defenses can be measured as constitutive levels of immune proteins (peroxidase [POX], prophenoloxidase [PPO], lysozyme-like activity [LYS], exochitinase [EXOC]), antioxidant (superoxide dismutase [SOD]), and antimicrobial (antibacterial [AB] and antifungal [AF]) activity. Therefore, variations in these parameters across a geographic region could provide clues to the role of environment in disease. This study examined healthy sea fans collected in July 2005 from six offshore sites in the Florida Keys lying between 24.569°N and 25.220°N, a distance of ~145 km. Contrary to expectations, small (<15 cm) colonies did not differ significantly from large colonies (>15 cm) in the protein-based levels of activity in any of the measured parameters. However, there were significant differences in many of the parameters among sites, and Molasses Reef and Looe Key Reef were the most different in POX, PPO, SOD, and AF activity. This suggests that there are potential site-specific environmental factors that shape the immune physiology of colonies. Several proxies of environmental stress were also regressed against levels of the immune parameters. The proxies included 10 year averages of benthic community composition, 5 year averages of water quality, and historic aspergillosis disease prevalence and severity. Generality about environmental drivers was limited by assaying only six sites, but several patterns did emerge. SOD, EXOC, and AF activity were all correlated with percent bare substrate cover, suggesting that certain immune components may be activated in low coral environments. LYS and EXOC activity were positively correlated with dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), one proxy of water quality. There were no relationships between any of the measured immune parameters and previous disease prevalence and severity. This study is a first step in evaluating levels of within- and between-site variation in coral immunity and investigating possible environmental drivers.


Aspergillosis Dissolve Inorganic Nitrogen Molasses Immune Measure Scleractinian Coral Cover 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.







Superoxide dismutase











Research was supported by the NSF/NIH Ecology of Infectious Disease Program (NSF OCE-0326705), and Coral Disease Working Group of the GEF-World Bank CRTR Program. CREMP ecological survey data were provided by Michael Callahan at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Water data were provided by the SERC-FIU Water Quality Monitoring Network which is supported by SFWMD/SERC Cooperative Agreements #4600000352 as well as EPA Agreement #X994621-94-0. We thank D. Baker and K. Kim for field support and A. Kessler for experimental support. We are grateful to E. Bartels at Mote Tropical Marine Laboratory in Summerland Key, Florida and L. Anderson at Keys Marine Lab, Long Key, Florida for collections and dive support. We would also like to thank G. Smith for supplying the bacteria isolate used for the AB assay. Statistical assistance was provided by Cornell University Statistical Consulting Unit and J. Simonis. Samples were collected under Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Permit # 2004-092.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. S. Couch
    • 1
  • L. D. Mydlarz
    • 2
    Email author
  • C. D. Harvell
    • 1
  • N. L. Douglas
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Corson HallCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA

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