MEPS 160:255-263 (1997)  -  doi:10.3354/meps160255

Widespread disease in Caribbean sea fans: II. Patterns of infection and tissue loss

I. Nagelkerken1,*, K. Buchan2, G. W. Smith3,4, K. Bonair5, P. Bush6, J. Garzón-Ferreira7, L. Botero7, P. Gayle8, C. D. Harvell9, C. Heberer10, K. Kim9, C. Petrovic11, L. Pors1, P. Yoshioka10

1Carmabi Foundation, PO Box 2090, Piscaderabaai z/n, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
2Saba Marine Park, Fort Bay, PO Box 18, The Bottom, Saba, Netherlands Antilles
3Department of Biology, University of South Carolina -Aiken, 171 University Parkway, Aiken, South Carolina 29801, USA
4Bahamian Field Station, PO Box 2488, Port Charlotte, Florida 33949, USA
5Institute of Marine Affairs, Hilltop Lane, Chaguaramas, PO Box 3160, Carenage Post Office, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies
6Cayman Islands Natural Resources Unit, PO Box 486, George Town, Grand Cayman, British West Indies
7Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras, INVEMAR, Apartado 1016, Santa Marta, Colombia
8Discovery Bay Marine Lab, PO Box 35, Discovery Bay, St. Ann, Jamaica
9Section of Ecology and Systematics, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA
10Department of Marine Sciences, University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus, PO Box 5000, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico
11H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, Paraquita Bay Campus, PO Box 3097, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands
*E-mail:

Large lesions and widespread tissue loss in the sea fans Gorgonia ventalina and G. flabellum L. occurred throughout most of the Caribbean during 1995 and 1996. An earlier study identified the putative pathogen as a fungus in the genus Aspergillus (Smith et al. 1996). Repeated surveys showed that in the Bahamas the incidence (= % of diseased sea fans) and virulence (= % tissue loss per diseased colony) of the disease increased rapidly from 1995 to 1996. Repeated surveys in Curaçao and Saba showed little variation in incidence and virulence. Incidence of the disease was higher on larger than on smaller colonies. On sheltered or moderately exposed shallow reefs (<12 m), both incidence and virulence were positively correlated with water depth. The number of lesions on diseased sea fans, measured only in Curaçao, also increased with depth. These patterns may result from a decrease in wave action, which usually declines with water depth, and the consequent reduction in the swaying motion of the sea fans, thus affecting success of pathogen attachment and establishment. The sea fan predator snail Cyphoma gibbosum was more abundant on diseased than on healthy colonies but its density appears to have been too low to contribute significantly to infection and tissue loss. Algal tumors were found on both healthy and diseased colonies and showed no clear association with the disease.


Disease · Fungal pathogen · Aspergillus · Tissue loss · Mortality · Sea fan · Gorgonia ventalina · Gorgonia flabellum · Cyphoma gibbosum · Algal tumors


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