Emerging coral diseases: a temperature-driven process?


  • Thinking beyond the data.


In the last few decades there has been a surge in research focusing on coral disease. While climate change, specifically rising sea surface temperature, has been proposed as a major and growing driver of the emergence of marine diseases, to date a solid connection between disease epizootics and elevated sea surface temperature has not been established. However, a wealth of data now exists, compiled from many different perspectives, that may support such a connection. In this work we provide a comprehensive review targeting one coral disease, black band disease, that spans the infection process, pathobiology, and epizootiology, and links specific mechanisms of the disease process to increasing temperatures. This temperature-driven pattern of infection can be expanded to include similar processes associated with other temperature-related coral diseases. The conclusions presented here are based upon the results of many studies using a diverse suite of approaches that have been synthesized to argue that the emergence and continuing spread of black band disease is linked to warming sea surface temperatures. In summary, as global ocean temperatures increase seasonally and over decades, the environment shifts to become more favorable for the growth of potentially pathogenic microorganisms endemic to the immediate environment of the reef. The increase in the relative number of potential pathogens in the microbial community produces microenvironments conducive to the growth of other potential pathogens, leading to infection by a polymicrobial consortium. This consortium is easily perturbed by a (seasonal) temperature decrease, but remains associated with the coral host and can be reactivated with a subsequent seasonal increase in temperature, resulting in a cycle of temperature-dependent disease emergence.