Project description:The extraction of tissue-skeleton cores from coral colonies is a common procedure to study diverse aspects of their biology, water quality or to obtain environmental proxies. Coral species preferred for such studies in Caribbean reefs belong to the genera Orbicella. The long term effects of coring in the coral colony are seldom evaluated and in many Caribbean countries this practice is not regulated. We monitored 50 lesions produced on Orbicella faveolata colonies by the extraction of two centimeter-diameter cores to determine if they were able to heal after a four year period. At the end of the study 4% of the lesions underwent full regeneration, 52% underwent partial regeneration, 14% suffered additional tissue loss but remained surrounded by live tissue, and 30% merged with dead areas of the colonies. Given the low capacity of Orbicella faveolata to regenerate tissue-skeleton lesions, studies that use coring should be regulated and mitigation actions, such as using less destructive techniques and remediation measures after extraction, should be conducted to facilitate tissue regeneration.
Project description:Outbreaks of coral diseases continue to reduce global coral populations. In the Caribbean, yellow band is a severe and wide-spread disease that commonly affects corals of the Orbicella spp. complex, significantly impeding coral reproduction, and hindering the natural recovery of Orbicella spp.Caribbean yellow-band disease (CYBD) lesions may be severe, and often result in the complete loss of coral tissue. The slow spread of CYBD, however, provides an opportunity to test methods to mitigate the disease. Here we report the results of in situ experiments, conducted within Buck Island Reef National Monument in St. Croix, USVI, to test the effectiveness of three techniques to minimize disease impact on Orbicella faveolata: (1) shading, (2) aspirating, and (3) chiseling a "firebreak" to isolate the lesion. Neither shading nor aspirating the diseased tissue significantly reduced CYBD tissue loss. However, chiseling reduced the rate and amount of tissue lost by 31%. While 30-40% of the chiseled lesions appeared to be free of disease signs 12-16 months after treatment, success significantly and steadily declined over 23 months, indicating a possible lack of long-term viability of the technique. The results of this study demonstrate that creating a "firebreak" between diseased and healthy-appearing tissue slows the spread of the disease and may prolong the life of O. faveolata colonies. The firebreak method yielded the best results of all the techniques tested, and also required the least amount of effort and resources. However, we do not recommend that this treatment alone be used for long-term disease mitigation. Rather, we propose that modifications of this and other treatment options be sought. The results also highlight the need for extended monitoring of CYBD after any treatment, due to the slow but variable rate and pattern of tissue loss in this disease.
Project description:The genetic composition of the resident Symbiodinium endosymbionts can strongly modulate the physiological performance of reef-building corals. Here, we used quantitative metabarcoding to investigate Symbiodinium genetic diversity in two species of mountainous star corals, Orbicella franksi and Orbicella faveolata, from two reefs separated by 19 km of deep water. We aimed to determine if the frequency of different symbiont genotypes varied with respect to coral host species or geographic location. Our results demonstrate that across the two reefs both coral species contained seven haplotypes of Symbiodinium, all identifiable as clade B and most closely related to type B1. Five of these haplotypes have not been previously described and may be endemic to the Flower Garden Banks. No significant differences in symbiont composition were detected between the two coral species. However, significant quantitative differences were detected between the east and west banks for three background haplotypes comprising 0.1%-10% of the total. The quantitative metabarcoding approach described here can help to sensitively characterize cryptic genetic diversity of Symbiodinium and potentially contribute to the understanding of physiological variations among coral populations.
Project description:Black band is a deadly coral disease found worldwide, which may become more virulent as oceanic conditions continue to change. To determine the effects of climate change and ocean acidification on black band disease virulence, Orbicella faveolata corals with black band were exposed to different temperature and pH conditions. Results showed a significant decrease in disease progression under low pH (7.7) conditions. Low pH also altered the relative abundance of the bacterial community of the black band disease consortium. Here, there was a significant decrease in Roseofilum, the cyanobacterium that typically dominates the black band mat. These results indicate that as oceanic pH decreases so may the virulence of a worldwide coral disease.
Project description:Coral diseases impact reefs globally. Although we continue to describe diseases, little is known about the etiology or progression of even the most common cases. To examine a spectrum of coral health and determine factors of disease progression we examined Orbicella faveolata exhibiting signs of Yellow Band Disease (YBD), a widespread condition in the Caribbean. We used a novel combined approach to assess three members of the coral holobiont: the coral-host, associated Symbiodinium algae, and bacteria. We profiled three conditions: (1) healthy-appearing colonies (HH), (2) healthy-appearing tissue on diseased colonies (HD), and (3) diseased lesion (DD). Restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis revealed health state-specific diversity in Symbiodinium clade associations. 16S ribosomal RNA gene microarrays (PhyloChips) and O. faveolata complimentary DNA microarrays revealed the bacterial community structure and host transcriptional response, respectively. A distinct bacterial community structure marked each health state. Diseased samples were associated with two to three times more bacterial diversity. HD samples had the highest bacterial richness, which included components associated with HH and DD, as well as additional unique families. The host transcriptome under YBD revealed a reduced cellular expression of defense- and metabolism-related processes, while the neighboring HD condition exhibited an intermediate expression profile. Although HD tissue appeared visibly healthy, the microbial communities and gene expression profiles were distinct. HD should be regarded as an additional (intermediate) state of disease, which is important for understanding the progression of YBD.
Project description:As coral reefs continue to decline worldwide, it becomes ever more necessary to understand the connectivity between coral populations to develop efficient management strategies facilitating survival and adaptation of coral reefs in the future. Orbicella faveolata is one of the most important reef-building corals in the Caribbean and has recently experienced severe population reductions. Here, we utilize a panel of nine microsatellite loci to evaluate the genetic structure of O. faveolata and to infer connectivity across ten sites spanning the wider Caribbean region. Populations are generally well-mixed throughout the basin (FST = 0.038), although notable patterns of substructure arise at local and regional scales. Eastern and western populations appear segregated with a genetic break around the Mona Passage in the north, as has been shown previously in other species; however, we find evidence for significant connectivity between Curaçao and Mexico, suggesting that the southern margin of this barrier is permeable to dispersal. Our results also identify a strong genetic break within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System associated with complex oceanographic patterns that promote larval retention in southern Belize. Additionally, the diverse genetic signature at Flower Garden Banks suggests its possible function as a downstream genetic sink. The findings reported here are relevant to the ongoing conservation efforts for this important and threatened species, and contribute to the growing understanding of large-scale coral reef connectivity throughout the wider Caribbean.
Project description:Molecular stress responses associated with coral diseases represent an under-studied area of cnidarian transcriptome investigations. Caribbean Yellow Band Disease (CYBD) is considered a disease of Symbiodinium within the tissues of the coral host Orbicella faveolata. There is a paucity of diagnostic tools to assist in the early detection and characterization of coral diseases. The validity of a diagnostic test is determined by its ability to distinguish host organisms that have the disease from those that do not. The ability to detect and identify disease-affected tissue before visible signs of the disease are evident would then be a useful diagnostic tool for monitoring and managing disease outbreaks. Representational Difference Analysis (RDA) was utilized to isolate differentially expressed genes in O. faveolata exhibiting CYBD. Preliminary screening of RDA products identified a small number of genes of interest (GOI) which included an early growth response factor and ubiquitin ligase from the coral host as well as cytochrome oxidase from the algal symbiont. To further characterize the specificity of response, quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) was utilized to compare the expression profiles of these GOIs within diseased tissues (visible lesions), tissues that precede visible lesions by 2-4 cm (transition area), and tissues from healthy-looking colonies with no signs of disease. Results show there are distinctive differences in the expression profiles of these three GOIs within each tissue examined. Collectively, this small suite of GOIs can provide a molecular "finger print" which is capable of differentiating between infected and uninfected colonies on reefs where CYBD is known to occur.