Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date

7-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Bernhard Riegl

Second Advisor

Sam Purkis

Abstract

Coral colonies, from a reef near Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), were counted and assessed for condition using photo-transects. An epidemic model, used to track how a communicable disease moves through a population, was constructed to help predict the future condition of this coral reef. In situ data from a disease outbreak that occurred in September 2011 provided a baseline for the model. Coral Populations of Porites, Platygyra, Acropora and Dipsastrea were modelled using condition categories that included Healthy, Black Band Disease Infected, Cyanobacteria Infected, Recovered, Recruits or Dead. Results from the modelling indicate that populations of Platygyra and Dipsastrea are healthy and growing, even with continued presence of diseases, due to the high rates of recovery (chance for host colony to overcome infection; high recovery rate = high chance of colony recovering from the infection) and low mortality rates (chance of dying from an infection; low mortality rate = low chance of a infected colony dying from the infection) in the genus. Porites showed no signs of population growth, but stabilized near its initial population size, despite having a high infection rate because population growth (recruitment) and recovery rate were canceled by a high mortality rate. Acropora showed a loss in population numbers over time, losing 25% of its population before the disease was eliminated. Diseases may have been eliminated from the Acropora population because population density was low and coral died quickly after becoming infected with a disease, due to the high mortality rate of this genus, before infecting other colonies. Acropora was the only genus to display what seems to be a density dependent infection rate, since chance of infection was reduced and then eliminated by the rapid mortality of infected colonies, if the population was higher disease spread may have been higher. In addition to results obtained using in situ data, higher modified infection rates were used to assess how they might impact these coral populations. Results suggest that all four genera seem to be resilient, shown by in situ modeling and parameters extracted from the phototransects, and able to withstand acute (rapid increase of infection rate which was then again quickly brought back to normal infection rate, an infection “spike”) increases of disease infection, which is shown by either a high recovery rate (Dipsastrea and Platygyra), a high recruitment/low mortality rate (Porites), or a high mortality rate (Acropora) that may not allow for the diseases to spread. However, all four genera would be slowly driven to extinction by a sustained (chronic) increase of disease infection rate brought on by growing stressors such as an increase in average water temperature or pollutants within the Gulf. These results demonstrate fragility of Gulf coral genera when exposed to chronic episodes of disease, which over time causes total collapse of the coral populations.

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