About this Research Topic
Starting in September 2014, an extremely high-prevalence outbreak of a white plague-like disease (now referred to as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease) was observed in southeastern Florida. The first signs of active disease were observed near Virginia Key, Florida, and after five years had spread the length of the Florida Reef Tract from Key West in the south to Martin County in the north. The disease outbreak has affected >20 coral species region-wide. Corals in the family Meandrinidae, especially Dendrogyra cylindrus, Eusmilia fastigiata, Meandrina meandrites, and Dichocoenia stokesi were the first species affected as well as being the most heavily impacted coral species. Several other coral species, including Colpophyllia natans, Pseudodiploria strigosa, Diploria labyrinthiformis, and Orbicella annularis have also been substantially affected. Observations by other researchers throughout Florida and the Caribbean mirror these early results. However, while there appears to be a strong phylogenetic preference to disease susceptibility and mortality patterns observed regionally, to-date a putative pathogen has not been isolated. The high prevalence of disease, the number of susceptible species, its transmissibility, and the high mortality of corals affected suggests this disease outbreak is arguably one of the most lethal ever recorded on a contemporary coral reef system. Recent reports of continued spread through other regions of the Caribbean (Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Yucatan of Mexico, the USVI, the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, the Turks Caicos Islands, St. Maarten, Martinique, and numerous other locations) is troubling indeed and may portend doom to a reef system already at risk.
The intent of this Research Topic is to describe this disease using a multi-disciplinary approach and utilizing numerous field case studies as well as experimental approaches. This includes understanding the ecological impacts of SCTLD from in situ monitoring programs, the potential causes and transmission of this contagion (etiology and epidemiology), the micro/pathobiology of the coral microbiome and surrounding water column associated with this epizootic, and the potential amelioration, intervention, and restoration strategies (including the genetic rescue of various at-risk coral species) that may be effective in conserving Caribbean reefs in the face of this catastrophic disease.
Keywords: Caribbean, Coral Reefs, Coral Disease, Epidemiology, Ecological Impacts
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