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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 154:15-31 (2023)  -  DOI:

Twenty-year record of white pox disease in the Florida Keys: importance of environmental risk factors as drivers of coral health

Kathryn P. Sutherland1,*,#, Ashton Griffin2,3,#, Andrew Park2,#, James W. Porter2,#, Scott F. Heron4,5,#, C. Mark Eakin5,6,#, Brett Berry2, Dustin W. Kemp7, Keri M. Kemp8, Erin K. Lipp9, John P. Wares2,10

1Rollins College, Department of Biology, Winter Park, Florida 32789, USA
2University of Georgia, Odum School of Ecology, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA
3The Rocket Science Group LLC (d/b/a Mailchimp), Atlanta, Georgia 30308, USA
4James Cook University, Physics and Marine Geophysical Laboratory, Townsville, Queensland 4814, Australia
5NOAA/NESDIS/STAR Coral Reef Watch, 5830 University Research Court, College Park, MD 20740, USA
6Corals and Climate, 13221 Glenhill Road, Silver Spring, MD 20904, USA
7University of Alabama at Birmingham, Department of Biology, Birmingham, Alabama 35233, USA
8University of Alabama at Birmingham, School of Medicine, Birmingham, Alabama 35233, USA
9University of Georgia, Department of Environmental Health Science, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA
10University of Georgia, Department of Genetics, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA
*Corresponding author:
#These authors contributed equally to this work

ABSTRACT: Declining coral populations worldwide place a special premium on identifying risks and drivers that precipitate these declines. Understanding the relationship between disease outbreaks and their drivers can help to anticipate when the risk of a disease pandemic is high. Populations of the iconic branching Caribbean elkhorn coral Acropora palmata have collapsed in recent decades, in part due to white pox disease (WPX). To assess the role that biotic and abiotic factors play in modulating coral disease, we present a predictive model for WPX in A. palmata using 20 yr of disease surveys from the Florida Keys plus environmental information collected simultaneously in situ and via satellite. We found that colony size was the most influential predictor for WPX occurrence, with larger colonies being at higher risk. Water quality parameters of dissolved oxygen saturation, total organic carbon, dissolved inorganic nitrogen, and salinity were implicated in WPX likelihood. Both low and high wind speeds were identified as important environmental drivers of WPX. While high temperature has been identified as an important cause of coral mortality in both bleaching and disease scenarios, our model indicates that the relative influence of HotSpot (positive summertime temperature anomaly) was low and actually inversely related to WPX risk. The predictive model developed here can contribute to enabling targeted strategic management actions and disease surveillance, enabling managers to treat the disease or mitigate disease drivers, thereby suppressing the disease and supporting the persistence of corals in an era of myriad threats.

KEY WORDS: Coral disease · Acropora palmata · White pox · Environmental drivers · Predictive model

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Cite this article as: Sutherland KP, Griffin A, Park A, Porter JW and others (2023) Twenty-year record of white pox disease in the Florida Keys: importance of environmental risk factors as drivers of coral health. Dis Aquat Org 154:15-31.

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