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Dis Aquat Organ. 2006 Jul 25;71(2):163-8.

Aplysina red band syndrome: a new threat to Caribbean sponges.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa 35487, USA.


A substantial and increasing number of reports have documented dramatic changes and continuing declines in Caribbean coral reef communities over the past 2 decades. To date, the majority of disease reports have focused on scleractinian corals, whereas sponge diseases have been less frequently documented. In this study, we describe Aplysina red band syndrome (ARBS) affecting Caribbean rope sponges of the genus Aplysina observed on shallow reefs in the Bahamas. Visible signs of disease presence included 1 or more rust-colored leading edges, with or without a trailing area of necrotic tissue, such that the lesion forms a contiguous band around part or all of the sponge branch. Microscopic examination of the leading edge of the disease margin indicated that a cyanobacterium was consistently responsible for the coloration. Although the presence of this distinctive coloration was used to characterize the diseased state, it is not yet known whether this cyanobacterium is directly responsible for disease causation. The prevalence of ARBS declined significantly from July to October 2004 before increasing above July levels in January 2005. Transmission studies in the laboratory demonstrated that contact with the leading edge of an active lesion was sufficient to spread ARBS to a previously healthy sponge, suggesting that the etiologic agent, currently undescribed, is contagious. Studies to elucidate the etiologic agent of ARBS are ongoing. Sponges are an essential component of coral reef communities and emerging sponge diseases clearly have the potential to impact benthic community structure on coral reefs.

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