Symbiotic immuno-suppression: is disease susceptibility the price of bleaching resistance?

PeerJ. 2018 Apr 17;6:e4494. doi: 10.7717/peerj.4494. eCollection 2018.


Accelerating anthropogenic climate change threatens to destroy coral reefs worldwide through the processes of bleaching and disease. These major contributors to coral mortality are both closely linked with thermal stress intensified by anthropogenic climate change. Disease outbreaks typically follow bleaching events, but a direct positive linkage between bleaching and disease has been debated. By tracking 152 individual coral ramets through the 2014 mass bleaching in a South Florida coral restoration nursery, we revealed a highly significant negative correlation between bleaching and disease in the Caribbean staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis. To explain these results, we propose a mechanism for transient immunological protection through coral bleaching: removal of Symbiodinium during bleaching may also temporarily eliminate suppressive symbiont modulation of host immunological function. We contextualize this hypothesis within an ecological perspective in order to generate testable predictions for future investigation.

Keywords: Acropora; Coral; Coral Immunity; Coral bleaching; Symbiosis.

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.d8sv77t

Grant support

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF-OCE-1503483 and NSF-IOS-1453519). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.