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Similarities and differences between two deadly Caribbean coral diseases: White plague and stony coral tissue loss disease

October 18, 2021

For several decades, white plagues (WPDs: WPD-I, II and III) and more recently, stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) have significantly impacted Caribbean corals. These diseases are often difficult to separate in the field as they produce similar gross signs. Here we aimed to compare what we know about WPD and SCTLD in terms of: (1) pathology, (2) etiology, and (3) epizootiology. We reviewed over 114 peer-reviewed publications from 1973 to 2021. Overall, WPD and SCTLD resemble each other macroscopically, mainly due to the rapid tissue loss they produce in their hosts, however, SCTLD has a more concise case definition. Multiple-coalescent lesions are often observed in colonies with SCTLD and rarely in WPD. A unique diagnostic sign of SCTLD is the presence of bleached circular areas when SCTLD lesions are first appearing in the colony. The paucity of histopathologic archives for WPDs for multiple species across geographies makes it impossible to tell if WPD is the same as SCTLD. Both diseases alter the coral microbiome. WPD is controversially regarded as a bacterial infection and more recently a viral infection, whereas for SCTLD the etiology has not been identified, but the putative pathogen, likely to be a virus, has not been confirmed yet. Most striking differences between WPD and SCTLD have been related to duration and phases of epizootic events and mortality rates. While both diseases may become highly prevalent on reefs, SCTLD seems to be more persistent even throughout years. Both transmit directly (contact) and horizontally (waterborne), but organism-mediated transmission is only proven for WPD-II. Given the differences and similarities between these diseases, more detailed information is needed for a better comparison. Specifically, it is important to focus on: (1) tagging colonies to look at disease progression and tissue mortality rates, (2) tracking the fate of the epizootic event by looking at initial coral species affected, the features of lesions and how they spread over colonies and to a wider range of hosts, (3) persistence across years, and (4) repetitive sampling to look at changes in the microbiome as the disease progresses. Our review shows that WPDs and SCTLD are the major causes of coral tissue loss recorded in the Caribbean.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Similarities and differences between two deadly Caribbean coral diseases: White plague and stony coral tissue loss disease
DOI 10.3389/fmars.2021.709544
Authors Aldo Cróquer, Ernesto Weil, Caroline Rogers
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Marine Science
Series Number
Index ID 70227403
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center