Bleaching causes loss of disease resistance within the threatened coral species acropora cervicornis

Erinn M. Muller, Erich Bartels, Iliana B. Baums

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Determining the adaptive potential of foundation species, such as reef-building corals, is urgent as the oceans warm and coral populations decline. Theory predicts that corals may adapt to climate change via selection on standing genetic variation. Yet, corals face not only rising temperatures but also novel diseases. We studied the interaction between two major stressors affecting colonies of the threatened coral, Acropora cervicornis: white-band disease and high water temperature. We determined that 27% of A. cervicornis were disease resistant prior to a thermal anomaly. However, disease resistance was largely lost during a bleaching event because of more compromised coral hosts or increased pathogenic dose/virulence. There was no tradeoff between disease resistance and temperature tolerance; disease susceptibility was independent of Symbiodinium strain. The present study shows that susceptibility to temperature stress creates an increased risk in disease-associated mortality, and only rare genets may maintain or gain infectious disease resistance under high temperature. We conclude that A. cervicornis populations in the lower Florida Keys harbor few existing genotypes that are resistant to both warming and disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere35066
StatePublished - Sep 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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