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Human Activities Predispose Corals to Deadly Disease
Reference
Aronson, R.B. and Precht, W.F.  2001.  White-band disease and the changing face of Caribbean coral reefs.  Hydrobiologia 460: 25-38.

What was done
The authors examined the nature and history of mortality among populations of Acropora palmate and A. cervicornis in the Caribbean.

What was learned
In the words of the authors, "populations of Acropora palmate (elkhorn coral) and A. cervicornis (staghorn coral), two of the most important framework-building species, have died throughout the Caribbean, substantially reducing coral cover."  In this regard, they note that "hurricanes have devastated local populations of Acropora spp. over the past 20-25 years, but white-band disease, a putative bacterial syndrome specific to the genus Acropora, has been a more significant source of mortality."  They further note that "paleontological data suggest that the regional Acropora kill is without precedent in the late Holocene."  Indeed, they say that "after constructing reef framework for thousands of years, A. cervicornis was virtually eliminated from the area over a ten-year period.

What it means
The authors note that "the outbreak of white-band disease has been coincident with increased human activity," and they wonder "whether Homo sapiens is a vector for one or more diseases on coral reefs."  The fact that their results lead to the conclusion that Caribbean reefs are currently experiencing the greatest coral devastation of the past several millennia truly implicates humanity in this unparalleled historical event. We suggest that the causative link is gradually weakened coral resistance to ever-present opportunistic diseases brought about by gradually increasing local human activities, as described in our Editorial of 6 March 2002.


Reviewed 20 March 2002