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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

    DAO prepress abstract   -  DOI:

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

    Kathryn P. Sutherland*, Ashton Griffin, Andrew Park, James W. Porter, Scott F. Heron, C. Mark Eakin, Brett Berry, Dustin W. Kemp, Keri M. Kemp, Erin K. Lipp, John P. Wares

    *Corresponding author:

    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. To assess the role that biotic and abiotic factors play in modulating coral disease, we present a predictive model for white pox disease in A. palmata using 20 years 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 disease 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 disease likelihood. Both low and high wind speeds were identified as important environmental drivers of white pox disease. 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 white pox disease 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.