Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

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scientific reports



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Biodiversity, Climate-change ecology, Conservation biology, Ecology, Marine biology, Population dynamics


Rare species population dynamics can elucidate the resilience of an ecosystem. On coral reefs, climate change and local anthropogenic stressors are threatening stony coral persistence, increasing the need to assess vulnerable species locally. Here, we monitored the threatened pillar coral, Dendrogyra cylindrus, population in southeast Florida, USA, in relation to consecutive heat stress events in 2014 and 2015. In the fall of each year, D. cylindrus colonies bleached following intense thermal stress and by June 2020 all monitored colonies died from a white-syndrome type disease. This resulted in the ecological extinction of D. cylindrus in the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area (ECA). White-syndrome type disease was first seen in February 2014 on four colonies (19% prevalence) near the major international port, Port Everglades and disease prevalence peaked in fall 2015 (58%). Disease prevalence increased with maximum water temperature, while disease related mortality increased with mean water temperature. Our findings suggest that thermal stress exacerbated underlying stony coral disease, resulting in an outbreak contributing to the ecological extirpation of D. cylindrus in the ECA. We suggest that stony coral resilience is severely compromised by chronic environmental disturbance which hinders community recovery.





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We thank the past and present members of the NSU Coral Reef Restoration, Assessment and Monitoring Lab. Nicole D’Antonio (NSU) created the original map of ground-truthed coordinates. This project was partially supported by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Program (FWC), Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative (State Wildlife Grants CFDA No. 15.634) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service grants program, Marine Projects Grant Cycle (federal award No. F13AF01085). This research was conducted under FWC Special Activity License SAL-13-1451-SRP.

Additional Comments

This study was funded by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (F13AF01085).

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Peer Reviewed