Scientists suspect a variety of factors, ranging from accidental damage from fishing activity to the effects of polluted runoff from land. One threat that appears to be growing dramatically in Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef is white syndrome, a disease that is spreading rapidly, leaving stripes of dead corals like ribbons of death in its wake. In a new study published by PLoS Biology, John Bruno, Amy Melendy, and colleagues show that the interaction between anomalously high ocean temperatures and the extent of coral cover is likely to account for the occurrence of the disease.
Global warming has seemed a likely suspect for several reasons. Past epidemiological studies—across a broad range of life forms—have shown that stress, including the stress of changing environmental conditions, often increases disease susceptibility. As temperatures rise, pathogens can reproduce more quickly. The fact that coral diseases seem to spread faster in summer also provides support for the notion that warmer temperatures may be involved. The authors conducted a regional-scale longitudinal study of the hypothesized link between warm temperature deviations and the presence of white syndrome, considering the density of coral cover as an additional variable of interest. To quantify temperature fluctuations, the researchers used a high resolution dataset on ocean surface temperature provided by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the University of Miami. They used the dataset to calculate w eekly sea surface temperature anomalies (WSSTAs), instances in which temperature was higher by 1°C or more from mean records for that week, for 48 reefs within the Great Barrier Reef. To evaluate the extent of white syndrome and coral cover, the researchers used data collected by the Australian Institute of Marine Science Long-term Monitoring Program on 48 reefs from a 1,500-kilometer stretch of the Great Barrier Reef from 1998 to 2004 at a depth of six to nine meters. Divers counted the number of infected colonies on each reef. Coral cover, the amount of the bottom with living corals, was measured from videos taken of the reefs.
The researchers then evaluated the relationship between the occurrence of white syndrome and three variables: number of WSSTAs occurring during the previous 52 weeks, coral cover, and the interaction between the two. They found that the third variable showed a statistically significant correlation with number of white syndrome cases, indicating that the presence of both conditions (temperature anomalies and high coral cover) creates the conditions in which white syndrome outbreaks are most likely to occur. In other words, WSSTAs were a necessary but not sufficient condition for white syndrome outbreaks, whereas the combination of heat stress and a dense colony was deadly.
What does this mean for corals and the ecosystem they support? If global warming increases the incidence of warm temperature anomalies in tropical oceans the years ahead, these results suggest that corals in high-cover areas will be increasingly vulnerable to white disease. If the effect is large enough, the tightly woven web of life within coral reefs could begin to unravel, potentially transforming habitats that were once among the planet’s richest ecosystems into underwater wastelands. This strong evidence for a link among a warming ocean, coral density, and white syndrome provides a rich foundation for further work to understand the spread of coral disease in the Great Barrier Reef. It also provides valuable insights into marine epidemiology that could be of much value in investigating and potentially mitigating other devastating global warming-related disease outbreaks in the world’s vast and vulnerable oceans.
Citation: Bruno JF, Selig ER, Casey KS, Page CA, Willis BL, et al. (2007) Thermal stress and coral cover as drivers of coral disease outbreaks. PLoS Biol 5(6): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050124.
Andrew Hyde | alfa
Upcycling of PET Bottles: New Ideas for Resource Cycles in Germany
25.06.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Betriebsfestigkeit und Systemzuverlässigkeit LBF
Dry landscapes can increase disease transmission
20.06.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.
Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
19.07.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.07.2018 | Earth Sciences
19.07.2018 | Life Sciences