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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 431:83-96 (2011)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps09135

Consideration of species community composition in statistical analyses of coral disease risk

Susan Harrell Yee1,*, Deborah L. Santavy1, John W. Kern2, Sarah Hession2

1United States Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Gulf Breeze, Florida 32561, USA
2Kern Statistical Services, Inc., Sauk Rapids, Minnesota 56379, USA

ABSTRACT: Diseases are increasing in marine ecosystems, and these increases have been attributed to a number of environmental factors including climate change, pollution, and overfishing. However, many studies pool disease prevalence into taxonomic groups, disregarding host-species composition when comparing sites or assessing environmental impacts on patterns of disease presence. We used simulated data under a known environmental effect to assess the ability of standard statistical methods (binomial and linear regression, ANOVA) to detect a significant environmental effect on pooled disease prevalence with varying species abundance distributions and relative susceptibilities to disease. When one species was more susceptible to a disease and both species only partially overlapped in their distributions, models tended to produce a greater number of false positives (Type I error). Differences in disease risk between regions or along an environmental gradient tended to be underestimated, or, even in the wrong direction, when highly susceptible taxa had reduced abundances in impacted sites, a situation likely to be common in nature. Including relative abundance as an additional variable in regressions improved model accuracy, but tended to be conservative, producing more false negatives (Type II error) when species abundance was strongly correlated with the environmental effect. An analysis of field data on bleaching from the Florida Keys, FL, USA, affirmed general results of model simulations. Investigators should be cautious of underlying assumptions about species similarity in susceptibility and species composition when interpreting pooled data on disease risk.


KEY WORDS: Coral · Disease · Bleaching · Community composition · Species distribution · Regression models


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Cite this article as: Yee SH, Santavy DL, Kern JW, Hession S (2011) Consideration of species community composition in statistical analyses of coral disease risk. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 431:83-96. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps09135

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