Abundance and Diversity of Culturable Bacteria from Healthy and Suspect White Plague Type II-infected Corals in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary




Santora, Karen A.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The increasing number and geographic spread of coral diseases over the past three decades is threatening the diversity and viability of coral reef ecosystems. Little is known about the causes of disease outbreaks in coral; how coral diseases are transmitted; or the relative impact of climate, environmental stressors, and anthropogenic factors on coral disease, making the prevention and/or mitigation of coral disease impacts difficult if not impossible. The coral disease white plague type II (WPII) is a particularly virulent and fast moving disease, affecting 38 documented species of Caribbean scleractinian corals. WPII has the ability to destroy coral tissue at a rate of up to 10 cm/day, with the ability to kill entire colonies within days. Loss of tissue from the margin of several coral species at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico in May 2005 suggested that the corals were affected by WPII. The goals of this study were to enumerate the microbial communities associated with suspect WPII coral disease, to compare the microbial abundance and community composition (diversity) between the healthy and diseased coral tissue, and to verify whether a previously proposed etiological agent of WPII, the bacterium Aurantimonas coralicida, was present in the diseased coral tissue. Triplicate coral core samples were collected from suspect WPII diseased-margin tissue, apparently healthy tissue on diseased coral colonies, and healthy tissue from four paired coral colonies from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. The culturable microbial communities were enumerated and then examined by molecular fingerprinting and 16S rRNA gene sequencing. The bacterial abundance data suggest that variations may be due, in part, to coral species-specific and site-specific factors. The length heterogeneity polymerase chain reaction (LH-PCR) fingerprinting and 16S rRNA gene sequencing data suggest that for selected bacterial colonies there was a relatively high degree of similarity among the culturable bacterial populations associated with apparently healthy tissue on diseased coral, healthy coral tissue, and diseased-margin coral tissue. Much of the variability in the presence of these bacterial populations was found in the less abundant taxa. The bacterium A. coralicida was not detected using LH-PCR to characterize the culturable bacterial colonies, even though isolates were selected based on morphological characteristics of A. coralicida to focus on likely candidates.



Coral Disease, White Plague II, Flower Garden Banks