In recent years, trop­ical coral reefs have become dras­ti­cally altered by dis­ease epi­demics. In a new study pub­lished by PLoS ONE, lead author Steven V. Vollmer, assis­tant pro­fessor of biology at the Marine Sci­ence Center at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, finds that acro­p­orid corals listed on the US Endan­gered Species List due to epi­demics of White Band Dis­ease can recover because up to six per­cent of the remaining corals are nat­u­rally resis­tant to the dis­ease. This is the first evi­dence of nat­ural dis­ease resis­tance in trop­ical reef corals.

The Carribean-​​wide mass die-​​offs of acro­p­orid corals and urchins have been major con­trib­u­tors to the rapid decline of coral reefs. Reef-​​building corals have gen­er­ally been sus­cep­tible to the global rise in marine dis­eases. As foun­da­tion species on trop­ical reefs, the impacts of White Band Dis­ease (WBD) and other coral dis­eases have rip­pled throughout the ecosystem. Recu­per­a­tion of these for­merly dom­i­nant corals has been slow.

Despite its extreme impacts, much about the causes and ecology of WBD remains poorly understood.

Under­standing dis­ease resis­tance in these corals is a crit­ical link to restoring pop­u­la­tions of these once pre­vailing corals throughout their habitat,” said Vollmer. “Our study has shown that there are dis­ease resis­tant corals, which means that these corals and thus the shallow water reefs of the Caribbean can be recovered.”

The study, titled “Nat­ural Dis­ease Resis­tance in Threat­ened Staghorn Corals” exam­ines the poten­tial for nat­ural resis­tance to WBD in the staghorn coral. Using geno­type infor­ma­tion and field mon­i­toring of WBD, the study found that six per­cent of staghorn coral geno­types are nat­u­rally resis­tant to WBD.

These resis­tant staghorn coral strains might explain why pockets of coral have been able to sur­vive the WBD epi­demic. Iden­ti­fying, pro­tecting and farming these dis­ease resis­tant corals pro­vides a clear avenue to recover these corals.

For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact Samantha Fodrowski at 617–373-5427 or s.​fodrowski@​neu.​edu.