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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 69:95-99 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/dao069095

Longitudinal study of aspergillosis in sea fan corals

Kiho Kim1,*, Alisa P. Alker2,5, Kara Shuster1,4, Craig Quirolo3, C. Drew Harvell2

1Department of Biology, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20016, USA
2Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA
3Reef Relief, Historic Seaport, 201 Williams St., #5, Key West, Florida 33040, USA
4Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California 93106-5131, USA
5Present address: Department of Epidemiology, CB#7435, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA

ABSTRACT: Aspergillosis (a fungal disease) is affecting sea fan corals Gorgonia spp. throughout the Caribbean. To measure the impact of this disease, we established longitudinal, or in other words individual-based, monitoring studies on 3 reefs in the Florida Keys, USA, to obtain estimates of incidence, rates of disease progress, recovery, and mortality. At Western Dry Rocks (near Key West), 40 Gorgonia ventalina colonies (20 initially healthy and 20 initially diseased) were photo-monitored between June 1996 and May 1998. Additional sea fans were visually monitored during 2 localized outbreaks at Conch (May 1998 to September 1999) and Carysfort (July 2000 to May 2001) reefs located in the Upper Keys. Data from Western Dry Rocks showed that over a 2 yr period, the incidence rate was 0.58 sea fans yr–1 and that tissue purpling can lead to tissue loss and subsequently to mortality, albeit at low frequencies. Most sea fans, once infected, maintained a low level of damage over time. Only 3 fans recovered from the disease; however 2 were subsequently re-infected. Case fatality rate was 10% (2 of 20 initially infected died), which is equivalent to 5% yr–1. However, mortality can increase during localized outbreaks. At Conch, mortality was 46% yr–1 among infected sea fans (compared to 8% yr–1 at Carysfort, a less impacted site, during the same period). During an outbreak at Carysfort, mortality was 95% yr–1 among diseased sea fans. These data clearly demonstrate the significant role aspergillosis plays in the population ecology of sea fan corals.

KEY WORDS: Gorgonia ventalina · Aspergillus sydowii · Coral disease · Host–pathogen interaction

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