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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 69:23-31 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/dao069023

Coral diversity and disease in Mexico

J. R. Ward1,*, K. L. Rypien1, J. F. Bruno2, C. D. Harvell1, E. Jordán-Dahlgren3, K. M. Mullen4, R. E. Rodríguez-Martínez3, J. Sánchez5, G. Smith6

1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Corson Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA
2Department of Marine Sciences, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3300, USA
3Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Apdo. Postal 1152, Cancún, 77500, Quintana Roo, Mexico
4Department of Entomology, Comstock Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA
5Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad de los Andes, Carrera 1E No 18A-10, Bogotá, Colombia
6Department of Biology and Geology, 471 University Parkway, Aiken, South Carolina 29801, USA

ABSTRACT: Field studies and empirical tests of the ‘diversity-disease hypothesis’ demonstrate the effects of species richness on disease transmission and severity in plant systems. Yet the converse, i.e. effects of disease on diversity, is rarely considered in either relatively well-studied plant systems or marine ecosystems. We investigated these effects along the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula to (1) quantify the relationship between disease prevalence and coral diversity, (2) test the hypothesis that octocoral and scleractinian disease prevalence are associated with one another, and (3) establish a long-term dataset. Aspergillosis of sea fans and 6 scleractinian diseases were documented. Prevalence of aspergillosis declined from 12.85% in 2002 to 5.26% in 2004, while prevalence of scleractinian diseases remained relatively constant at 5.7 ± 0.8% in 2002 and 7.96 ± 0.7% in 2004. Sites were relatively rich (71 species of octocoral and scleractinian corals) and even (E5 > 0.5). Sea fan disease prevalence was not associated with scleractinian disease prevalence, nor were there consistent associations between disease and measures of diversity. However, the most abundant octocoral and scleractinian species are susceptible to infection with several diseases, and disease may alter coral diversity in complex ways. These data represent the first in what will become a long-term dataset monitoring disease prevalence and associated changes in coral diversity.

KEY WORDS: Octocoral · Scleractinian · Disease · Diversity · Caribbean · Mexico · Richness · Evenness

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