Nav: Home

Tools used to study human disease reveal coral disease risk factors

February 20, 2020

In a study published in Scientific Reports, a team of international researchers led by University of Hawai'i (UH) at Mānoa postdoctoral fellow Jamie Caldwell used a statistical technique typically employed in human epidemiology to determine the ecological risk factors affecting the prevalence of two coral diseases--growth anomalies, abnormalities like coral tumors, and white syndromes, infectious diseases similar to flesh eating bacteria.

Certain diseases in corals are either endemic, meaning they are consistently found at baseline levels in the environment, or epidemic, meaning there are periods with big outbreaks and then they seem to disappear. Though important to understand, it has been a challenge for researchers to study how those diseases are transmitted because of low rates of occurrence.

The team compared biological, environmental, human-related, and physical disease drivers with observations of healthy and diseased coral colonies.

"We specifically looked at associations between disease occurrence during non-outbreaks periods to understand what conditions allow diseases to persist in the environment at low levels year-round, or in between epidemics," said Caldwell, who is based at the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology's (SOEST) Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB).

They found larger corals had higher disease risk overall. In particular, growth anomalies were more common in reefs with fewer fish, limited water motion and in areas adjacent to watersheds with high fertilizer and pesticide runoff. In contrast, white syndromes were associated with wave exposure, stream exposure, depth, and cooler ocean temperature. 

Healthy coral reefs are culturally important ecosystems and vital to Hawai'i's tourism industry. Disease outbreaks can wreak havoc on coral ecosystems. Because some diseases are rare and hard to observe, it had been difficult in the past to rigorously make inferences about which disease drivers were most impactful.

"The methods we used in this study highlight the power of the experimental design common in epidemiology but rarely, if ever, used in ecological studies," said Megan Donahue, co-author and HIMB associate researcher.

"This study provides information about what specific conditions impact coral health and the results could be used to help improve coastal development plans by considering the downstream effects of different land-use types on the coral community," said Caldwell. "Additionally, this improves our ability to predict future outbreaks based on environmental conditions and mitigate disease drivers like runoff from golf courses to evade outbreaks altogether."

The team is now using the relationships they identified to forecast coral disease outbreak risk across the Indo-Pacific. This is part of a NASA-funded project to develop seasonal and near real-time forecasts of coral disease outbreak risk for all US-affiliated Pacific Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. The forecasts will be publicly available through NOAA Coral Reef Watch.
-end-


University of Hawaii at Manoa

Related Epidemiology Articles:

Epidemiology, clinical features, disease severity in pediatric patients with COVID-19
Epidemiology, clinical and laboratory features of 50 children hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York are examined in this case series.
New algorithm tracks pediatric sepsis epidemiology using clinical data
Researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have developed a novel computational algorithm to track the epidemiology of pediatric sepsis, allowing for the collection of more accurate data about outcomes and incidence of the condition over time, which is essential to the improvement of care.
Understanding how laws affect public health: An update on legal epidemiology
Laws can have important effects on public health risks and outcomes, while research can provide key evidence to inform effective health-related laws and policies.
Epidemiology: Measures for cleaner air
Worldwide, a broad range of measures have been introduced to reduce outdoor air pollution.
Poor oral health may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer among African American women
African American women with poor oral health may be more likely to get pancreatic cancer (PC).
Epidemiology, pathophysiology, and therapeutic targets in stable ischemic heart disease
In the current issue of Cardiovascular Innovations and Applications, C.
The case for greater focus on mosquitoes, ticks in epidemiology
The textbook approach to managing disease outbreaks focuses on three factors -- pathogen, host, and environment--but it leaves out one critical component in the case of afflictions such as Zika, malaria, and Lyme: the insect or arthropod responsible for transmission to humans.
Living systematic review describes the epidemiology of sexual transmission of Zika virus
Zika virus (ZIKV) may be sexually transmissible for a shorter period than previously estimated, according to a systematic review published this week in PLOS Medicine by Michel Counotte and Nicola Low of the University of Bern in Switzerland, and colleagues.
BU: Marijuana use does not lower chances of getting pregnant
Marijuana use -- by either men or women -- does not appear to lower a couple's chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.
Understanding the epidemiology of sarcopenia throughout the lifecourse
Recent definitions of sarcopenia have integrated information on muscle mass, strength, and physical function.
More Epidemiology News and Epidemiology Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Our Relationship With Water
We need water to live. But with rising seas and so many lacking clean water – water is in crisis and so are we. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas around restoring our relationship with water. Guests on the show include legal scholar Kelsey Leonard, artist LaToya Ruby Frazier, and community organizer Colette Pichon Battle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#568 Poker Face Psychology
Anyone who's seen pop culture depictions of poker might think statistics and math is the only way to get ahead. But no, there's psychology too. Author Maria Konnikova took her Ph.D. in psychology to the poker table, and turned out to be good. So good, she went pro in poker, and learned all about her own biases on the way. We're talking about her new book "The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Uncounted
First things first: our very own Latif Nasser has an exciting new show on Netflix. He talks to Jad about the hidden forces of the world that connect us all. Then, with an eye on the upcoming election, we take a look back: at two pieces from More Perfect Season 3 about Constitutional amendments that determine who gets to vote. Former Radiolab producer Julia Longoria takes us to Washington, D.C. The capital is at the heart of our democracy, but it's not a state, and it wasn't until the 23rd Amendment that its people got the right to vote for president. But that still left DC without full representation in Congress; D.C. sends a "non-voting delegate" to the House. Julia profiles that delegate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and her unique approach to fighting for power in a virtually powerless role. Second, Radiolab producer Sarah Qari looks at a current fight to lower the US voting age to 16 that harkens back to the fight for the 26th Amendment in the 1960s. Eighteen-year-olds at the time argued that if they were old enough to be drafted to fight in the War, they were old enough to have a voice in our democracy. But what about today, when even younger Americans are finding themselves at the center of national political debates? Does it mean we should lower the voting age even further? This episode was reported and produced by Julia Longoria and Sarah Qari. Check out Latif Nasser's new Netflix show Connected here. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.