The role of predators in coral disease dynamics

Journal Article (Review;Journal)

Coral disease is becoming increasingly problematic on reefs worldwide. However, most coral disease research has focused on the abiotic drivers of disease, potentially overlooking the role of species interactions in disease dynamics. Coral predators in particular can influence disease by breaking through protective tissues and exposing corals to infections, vectoring diseases among corals, or serving as reservoirs for pathogens. Numerous studies have demonstrated the relationship between corallivores and disease in certain contexts, but to date there has been no comprehensive synthesis of the relationships between corallivores and disease, which hinders our understanding of coral disease dynamics. To address this void, we identified 65 studies from 26 different ecoregions that examine this predator–prey-disease relationship. Observational studies found over 20 positive correlations between disease prevalence and corallivore abundance, with just four instances documenting a negative correlation between corallivores and disease. Studies found putative pathogens in corallivore guts and experiments demonstrated the ability of corallivores to vector pathogens. Corallivores were also frequently found infesting disease margins or targeting diseased tissues, but the ecological ramifications of this behavior remains unknown. We found that the impact of corallivores was taxon-dependent, with most invertebrates increasing disease incidence, prevalence, or progression; fish showing highly context-dependent effects; and xanthid crabs decreasing disease progression. Simulated wounding caused disease in many cases, but experimental wound debridement slowed disease progression in others, which could explain contrasting findings from different taxa. The negative effects of corallivores are likely to worsen as storms intensify, macroalgal cover increases, more nutrients are added to marine systems, and water temperatures increase. As diseases continue to impact coral reefs globally, a more complete understanding of the ecological dynamics of disease—including those involving coral predators—is of paramount importance to coral reef conservation and management.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Renzi, JJ; Shaver, EC; Burkepile, DE; Silliman, BR

Published Date

  • April 1, 2022

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 41 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 405 - 422

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1432-0975

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0722-4028

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1007/s00338-022-02219-w

Citation Source

  • Scopus