Disease incidence is related to bleaching extent in reef-building corals

Marilyn E. Brandt, John W. Mcmanus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Recent outbreaks of coral bleaching and disease have contributed to substantial declines in the abundance of reef-building coral. Significant attention has been paid to both phenomena in order to determine their effect on reef trajectories. Although each is positively correlated with high temperatures, few studies have explored the potential links between bleaching and disease. A longitudinal study of corals in the Florida Keys was therefore conducted during the 2005 Caribbean bleaching event to quantify bleaching extent and disease incidence in corals, and to determine whether they were related or if they acted as discrete phenomena. These data indicated that overall, a positive correlation exists between bleaching extent and disease incidence. However, the specific interactions between these two phenomena varied among disease bleaching combinations. Montastraea faveolata colonies with greater bleaching intensities later developed white plague (WP) infections. Meanwhile, Siderastrea siderea colonies with dark spot disease (DS) bleached more extensively than apparently healthy colonies. Finally, bleaching and black band disease (BB) co-occurred on Colpophyllia natans throughout the bleaching event. WP, BB, and bleaching are each independently capable of changing the structure of coral populations through loss of living tissue, and DS is an important indicator of reef health. Understanding the dynamics of how these mortality sources interact is critical to understanding mortality patterns and predicting how reef communities will respond to future events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2859-2867
Number of pages9
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • 2005 mass bleaching event
  • Black band disease
  • Coral bleaching
  • Coral disease epizootiology
  • Coral white plague disease
  • Dark spot syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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