DAO 69:79-88 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/dao069079

Bacterial community structure associated with white band disease in the elkhorn coral Acropora palmata determined using culture-independent 16S rRNA techniques

Olga Pantos1, John C. Bythell2,*

1Centre for Marine Studies, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Brisbane 4072, Queensland, Australia
2School of Biology, Newcastle University, Ridley Building, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Culture-independent molecular (16S ribosomal RNA) techniques showed distinct differences in bacterial communities associated with white band disease (WBD) Type I and healthy elkhorn coral Acropora palmata. Differences were apparent at all levels, with a greater diversity present in tissues of diseased colonies. The bacterial community associated with remote, non-diseased coral was distinct from the apparently healthy tissues of infected corals several cm from the disease lesion. This demonstrates a whole-organism effect from what appears to be a localised disease lesion, an effect that has also been recently demonstrated in white plague-like disease in star coral Montastraea annularis. The pattern of bacterial community structure changes was similar to that recently demonstrated for white plague-like disease and black band disease. Some of the changes are likely to be explained by the colonisation of dead and degrading tissues by a micro-heterotroph community adapted to the decomposition of coral tissues. However, specific ribosomal types that are absent from healthy tissues appear consistently in all samples of each of the diseases. These ribotypes are closely related members of a group of α-proteobacteria that cause disease, notably juvenile oyster disease, in other marine organisms. It is clearly important that members of this group are isolated for challenge experiments to determine their role in the diseases.

KEY WORDS: Molecular · Microbial ecology · Coral disease · White band disease · WBD

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