Elevated temperature and light enhance progression and spread of black band disease on staghorn corals of the Great Barrier Reef
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Rates of progression and transmission of black band disease (BBD) on the staghorn coral, Acropora muricata, were compared between months for seasonal in situ studies and between temperature treatments in experimental aquaria manipulations at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). In situ field experiments demonstrated that BBD progressed along branches approximately twice as fast (1.7–2.4 times) during the austral summer month of January (0.99 ± 0.04 cm/day) than in the cooler months of July (0.58 ± 0.04 cm/day) and May (0.41 ± 0.07 cm/day). Transmission of BBD between colonies was also accelerated in warmer months, with signs of infection becoming visible 1.2 days earlier in January compared to May. The greater seawater temperatures by ∼2 to 3°C and light intensities by up to 650 μE/m2/s in January, suggest that rates of progression and transmission of BBD are linked to one or both of these parameters. Manipulative experiments in summer provide corroborative evidence that elevated temperatures increase rates of BBD progression, with the disease progressing 1.3 times more rapidly in the 32°C elevated temperature treatment than in the 30°C ambient treatment (1.17 ± 0.06 cm/day versus 0.92 ± 0.07 cm/day; F2,6 = 7.66, P = 0.022). In contrast, although a trend for greatest BBD progression was measured in elevated temperature treatments of 29°C (0.46 ± 0.07 cm/day) and 31°C (0.52 ± 0.06 cm/day) in winter, these rates did not differ significantly (F3,7 = 1.72, P = 0.249) from those measured for the ambient 27°C treatment (0.37 ± 0.06 cm/day) or the field controls (0.41 ± 0.09 cm/day). The lower rates of BBD progression in the 31°C winter treatment (0.52 ± 0.06 cm/day) than in the 30°C (0.92 ± 0.07 cm/day) summer treatment, may have been a response to 28-fold decreased light irradiance in the former, suggesting that high irradiance in combination with elevated temperatures may promote progression of BBD. Results from this study indicate that the impact of elevated temperature on BBD progression is complex with a combination of environmental factors including temperature and light playing key roles in progression and transmission of the disease.
KeywordsGreat Barrier Reef Seawater Temperature Coral Coloni Coral Disease Black Band Disease
We would like to thank N. Cantin, C. Page, M. Sussman, and the staff of Lizard Island Research Station for their assistance in field and laboratory studies. This research was supported by the Australian Research Council Discovery Program and the Global Environment Fund/World Bank Targeted Research and Capacity Building for Coral Reef Management program.
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