Quantifying the effects of white pox disease and bleaching in elkhorn coral in the Florida Keys from 1994-2014
Berry, Brett Stephen
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Bleaching events and disease outbreaks have contributed to major losses of coral worldwide in recent decades. We analyze a long-term data set from 1994-2014 in the Florida Keys to determine risk factors for elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) colony mortality. Historical (1994-2004) and contemporary (2008-2014) surveys, each tracking the status and fate of individual colonies through time, were compared and contrasted. Whole colony mortality, disease prevalence and severity were high in historical, and low in contemporary, outbreaks of white pox disease. Although counter intuitive, our results clearly show that corals surviving the initial bleaching or disease event, may exhibit delayed whole-colony mortality. The statistical significance of the pattern and its repeated expression at multiple sites and times on reefs throughout the Florida keys, suggests that future studies of disease and bleaching should also investigate mechanisms that might temporarily prolong life in the face of these life-threatening stressors.