Effects of Coral Disease on Exosymbiotic Invertebrate Assemblage Examining exo-symbiont assemblage on healthy and diseased Porites species throughout shallow water reef systems on Hawaiʻi Island

Pihana, Hokuokahalelani
Takabayashi, Misaki
Tropical Conservation Biology & Environmental Science
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Pōhaku puna (Porites lobata Dana, 1846) is a foundational coral species found throughout coral reef systems in Hawaiʻi, that is of cultural and ecological importance. Local and global anthropogenic impacts to coastal environment make pōhaku puna (Porites lobata) and other coral species vulnerable to diseases and other afflictions. Growth anomaly (GA) is a disease that has been identified on other coral species as abnormal tissue growth that increases mortality and hinders biological functions such as growth, digestion, defense, and feeding which results in reduced fecundity. This study developed a morphological definition of the GA disease found on pōhaku puna colonies, in comparison to unafflicted (UA) and healthy (H) coral tissue, based on the difference in mean polyp density (H=4.1 polyp/cm2, UA = 3.2 polyp/cm2, GA=2.9 polyp/cm2), mean individual polyp diameter (H=1.2mm, UA=1.6mm, GA=1.8mm), and mean distance between coral polyps (H=2.0mm, UA=1.6mm, GA=2.7mm). Of these parameters, the distance between coral polyps was the only parameter that showed significant difference between GA, UA, and H coral tissue. Additionally, 12 pōhaku puna colonies were examined over six months to determine any differences in exosymbiont species assemblage between GA afflicted and unafflicted pōhaku puna colonies. No significant differences were found in exosymbiont species diversity (p-value > 0.05) and density (p-value > 0.05) between GA afflicted and unafflicted pōhaku puna colonies suggesting that the presence of GA afflictions on pōhaku puna does not impact exosymbiont assemblage. These results imply that there is little impact to exosymbiotic community assemblage from this disease, and the relationships amongst these host corals and their exosymbiont invertebrates are resilient to this disease. The size of the individual colonies and the proportion of the coral surface area occupied by GA could be a factor also and can be further investigated in future studies. It is important to note that this disease could potentially impact whole reef ecosystem structure by negatively effecting coral physiological processes and biological functions. To further elucidate the effects of coral GAs to whole ecosystem health and productivity future studies need to be more longitudinal and must examine the impacts to the physiological and ecological processes at the ecosystem level.
Ecology, Cultural resources management, Environmental science, coral disease, exosymbiont, growth anomalies, pohaku puna
46 pages
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