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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e39779. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039779. Epub 2012 Jun 22.

Thermal and sedimentation stress are unlikely causes of brown spot syndrome in the coral reef sponge, Ianthella basta.

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  • 1Australian Institute of Marine Science at James Cook University, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia.



Marine diseases are being increasingly linked to anthropogenic factors including global and local stressors. On the Great Barrier Reef, up to 66% of the Ianthella basta population was recently found to be afflicted by a syndrome characterized by brown spot lesions and necrotic tissue.


Manipulative experiments were undertaken to ascertain the role of environmental stressors in this syndrome. Specifically, the effects of elevated temperature and sedimentation on sponge health and symbiont stability in I. basta were examined. Neither elevated temperature nor increased sedimentation were responsible for the brown spot lesions, but sponges exposed to 32°C developed substantial discoloration and deterioration of their tissues, resulting in death after eight days and a higher microbial diversity in those samples. No shifts in the microbial community of I. basta were observed across a latitudinal gradient or with increased sedimentation, with three previously described symbionts dominating the community of all sponges (Alphaproteobacteria, Gammaproteobacteria and Thaumarchaea).


Results from this study highlight the stable microbial community of I. basta and indicate that thermal and sedimentation stress are not responsible for the brown spot lesions currently affecting this abundant and ecologically important sponge species.

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