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USGS Researchers Conduct Collaborative Experiment to Identify Causative Agent of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD)

SPCMSC Research scientists Christina Kellogg and James Evans are working with Valerie Paul, director of the Smithsonian Marine Station in Ft. Pierce, Florida, to conduct an experiment to determine if SCTLD is caused by a pathogenic microbe and if so, which kind. 

A brain coral infected with Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease
A brain coral infected with Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in April 2018. (Credit: Ilsa Kuffner, USGS. Public domain.)

An outbreak of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) has been causing high mortality in roughly half of Florida’s 45 stony coral species, including key reef building species and five species listed in the Endangered Species Act. This disease is impacting nearly the entire Florida reef tract and is spreading throughout the Caribbean. This USGS-designed experiment will concentrate the microbial community in mesocosm water from diseased corals, use physical filters of different sizes to separate the microbial community into different-sized taxonomic groups (e.g., protists, bacteria, viruses) and apply those filters to healthy coral fragments in a laboratory setting to determine which size triggers SCTLD symptoms. Findings from this study can potentially help determine the cause of this devastating coral disease and inform the development of solutions to halt its spread. 

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