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Systematically describing gross lesions in corals

January 1, 2006

Many coral diseases are characterized based on gross descriptions and, given the lack or difficulty of applying existing laboratory tools to understanding causes of coral diseases, most new diseases will continued to be described based on appearance in the field. Unfortunately, many existing descriptions of coral disease are ambiguous or open to subjective interpretation, making comparisons between oceans problematic. One reason for this is that the process of describing lesions is often confused with that of assigning causality for the lesion. However, causality is usually something not obtained in the field and requires additional laboratory tests. Because a concise and objective morphologic description provides the foundation for a case definition of any disease, there is a need for a consistent and standardized process to describe lesions of corals that focuses on morphology. We provide a framework to systematically describe and name diseases in corals involving 4 steps: (1) naming the disease, (2) describing the lesion, (3) formulating a morphologic diagnosis and (4) formulating an etiologic diagnosis. This process focuses field investigators on describing what they see and separates the process of describing a lesion from that of inferring causality, the latter being more appropriately done using laboratory techniques.

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