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Dis Aquat Organ. 2009 Nov 16;87(1-2):67-78. doi: 10.3354/dao02088.

Immune defenses of healthy, bleached and diseased Montastraea faveolata during a natural bleaching event.

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Department of Biology, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas 76019, USA.


One prominent hypothesis regarding climate change and scleractinian corals is that thermal stress compromises immune competence. To test this hypothesis we tracked how the immune defenses of bleached, apparently healthy and yellow band disease (YBD) diseased Montastraea faveolata colonies varied with natural thermal stress in southwestern Puerto Rico. Colonies were monitored for 21 mo from the peak of the bleaching event in October 2005 to August 2007. Since sea surface temperature was significantly higher in summer and fall 2005 than 2006, year of collection was used as a proxy for temperature stress, and colony fragments collected in 2005 were compared with those collected in 2006. Mortality rate was high (43% overall) and all colonies (except one) either died or became infected with YBD by August 2007. YBD-infected tissue did not bleach (i.e. expel zooxanthellae) during the 2005 bleaching event, even when healthy tissue of these colonies bleached. Immune activity was assayed by measuring prophenoloxidase (PPO), peroxidase (POX), lysozyme-like (LYS) and antibacterial (AB) activity. Immune activity was variable between all coral samples, but there was a significant elevation of PPO activity in bleached colonies collected in 2005 relative to apparently healthy and YBD-diseased corals in 2006. In YBD-diseased colonies, LYS and AB activity were elevated in both healthy and infected tissue, indicating a systemic response; activity levels in these colonies were higher compared to those that appeared healthy. In both these immune parameters, there was a trend for suppression of activity in corals that were bleached in 2005. These data, while complicated by between-genet variability, illustrate the complex interaction between disease and temperature stress on immune function.

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