DAO 69:41-51 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/dao069041

Distribution, host range and large-scale spatial variability in black band disease prevalence on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Cathie Page*, Bette Willis

School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia

ABSTRACT: The prevalence and host range of black band disease (BBD) was determined from surveys of 19 reefs within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia. Prevalence of BBD was compared among reefs distributed across large-scale cross-shelf and long-shelf gradients of terrestrial or anthropogenic influence. We found that BBD was widespread throughout the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and was present on 73.7% of the 19 reefs surveyed in 3 latitudinal sectors and 3 cross-shelf positions in the summer of 2004. Although BBD occurred on all mid-shelf reefs and all but one outer-shelf reefs, overall prevalence was low, infecting on average 0.09% of sessile cnidarians and 0.1% of scleractinian corals surveyed. BBD affected ~7% of scleractinian taxa (25 of approximately 350 GBR hard coral species) and 1 soft coral family, although most cases of BBD were recorded on branching Acropora species. Prevalence of BBD did not correlate with distance from terrestrial influences, being highest on mid-shelf reefs and lowest on inshore reefs (absent from 66%, n = 6, of these reefs). BBD prevalence was consistently higher in all shelf positions in the northern (Cooktown/Lizard Island) sector, which is adjacent to relatively pristine catchments compared to the central (Townsville) sector, which is adjacent to a more developed catchment. BBD cases were clustered within reefs and transects, which was consistent with local dispersal of pathogens via currents, although the spread of BBD was not dependent on the density or cover of any of the coral taxa examined. In combination, these results suggest that BBD is part of the natural ecology of coral assemblages of the GBR, and its prevalence is relatively unaffected by terrestrial influences on the scales characteristic of cross-shelf gradients.

KEY WORDS: Black band disease · BBD · Coral disease · Great Barrier Reef · GBR · Cyanobacteria · Skeletal eroding band · SEB · Bleaching

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