Abstract

Disease epidemics have caused extensive damage to tropical coral reefs and to the reef-building corals themselves, yet nothing is known about the abilities of the coral host to resist disease infection. Understanding the potential for natural disease resistance in corals is critically important, especially in the Caribbean where the two ecologically dominant shallow-water corals, Acropora cervicornis and A. palmata, have suffered an unprecedented mass die-off due to White Band Disease (WBD), and are now listed as threatened under the US Threatened Species Act and as critically endangered under the IUCN Red List criteria. Here we examine the potential for natural resistance to WBD in the staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis by combining microsatellite genotype information with in situ transmission assays and field monitoring of WBD on tagged genotypes. We show that six percent of staghorn coral genotypes (3 out of 49) are resistant to WBD. This natural resistance to WBD in staghorn corals represents the first evidence of host disease resistance in scleractinian corals and demonstrates that staghorn corals have an innate ability to resist WBD infection. These resistant staghorn coral genotypes may explain why pockets of Acropora have been able to survive the WBD epidemic. Understanding disease resistance in these corals may be the critical link to restoring populations of these once dominant corals throughout their range.

Notes

Originally published as: Vollmer SV, Kline DI (2008) Natural Disease Resistance in Threatened Staghorn Corals. PLoS ONE 3(11): e3718. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003718

Keywords

Caribbean corals, white-band disease (WBD), endangered species, genetics, gene flow, Acropora cervicornis, Acropora palmata

Subject Categories

Coral reef biology, Acropora cervicornis, Natural immunity

Disciplines

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Genetics

Publisher

Public Library of Science

Publication Date

11-13-2008

Rights Information

Copyright 2008. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Rights Holder

Steven V. Vollmer, David I. Kline

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