Sea fan immunity and disease is influenced by metal pollution, host demography, and multiple stressors

Allison M Tracy1, Ernesto Weil2 and C. Drew Harvell1, (1)Cornell University, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Ithaca, NY, United States, (2)University of Puerto Rico, Department of Marine Sciences, Mayaguez, PR, United States
Organisms in natural populations experience an onslaught of stressful conditions that may compromise their ability to fight pathogens, particularly if multiple stressors impact a host at the same time. Environmental stressors can also influence the pathogens. Despite the clear importance of environmental factors for coral host-pathogen interactions and the potential for population-level consequences, there is relatively little research to date on multiple stressors. The population of Caribbean sea fans, Gorgonia ventalina, in Parguera, Puerto Rico is a tractable system in which to study the effects of multiple stressors on two pathogens. Sea fans are dominant members of reefs that provide food and habitat for diverse reef inhabitants. In addition, there is already a foundation of research on sea fan disease and immunity. We first conducted field surveys of 15 sites to assess the effects of demographic and environmental factors on the prevalence and severity of multifocal purple spots (MFPS) and a Labyrinthulid stramenopile pathogen, as well as the host’s cellular immune response to each pathogen. We complemented the field survey with a fully factorial, clonally replicated experiment on the separate and combined effects of thermal stress and copper pollution on both the host and the pathogen. Although water quality has been linked to coral disease, there are no studies investigating the role of metal or chemical pollutants, which are high at some of our study sites. Preliminary results show that the sea fan immune response to the Labyrinthulid depends on interactive effects of copper and thermal stress. The field survey identifies colony size as the main driver of MFPS. This in-depth perspective on sea fan disease speaks to the immune capabilities of cnidarians, highlights factors that modify those capabilities, and reflects the complex interaction of host, pathogens, and environment in this ecologically important coral.