UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON
Coral reef ecosystems are highly endangered by recent increases in temperature and by projected increases in ocean acidification. Although temperature has been identified as a driver of some coral disease outbreaks, nothing is known about direct effects of acidification on host immunity and pathogen virulence, or the potential for synergism with temperature. Natural coral populations often suffer from simultaneous infection by multiple pathogens that can also influence host immune responses, but co-infection dynamics have not been investigated in invertebrate systems lacking classical adaptive immunity. Changing climate will very likely influence the outcome of single and co-infection.
This project will investigate the influence of environmental stress on co-infection dynamics of the sea fan coral, Gorgonia ventalina, with a fungal pathogen, Aspergillus sydowii and a protist parasite, SPX. The goal is to identify the mechanisms through which multiple infections, temperature and acidification modify host resistance, leading to changes in within- and among-colony rates of disease spread.
The Objectives of this project are to:
-Identify incidence and co-infection frequency of Aspergillus sydowii and SPX Detailed field surveys of the two diseases will test the hypothesis that co-infection is significant, provide valuable information about drivers of aspergillosis, and will help to characterize an emerging new sea fan disease.
-Investigate how co-infection influences sea fan susceptibility, resistance, and within host disease dynamics. Through manipulative lab inoculation experiments we will test the hypothesis that single infections increase susceptibility to a second pathogen.
-Examine the effects of temperature increase and ocean acidification on pathogen virulence, on underlying host resistance, and on the dynamics of single and co-infections
The hypotheses that acidification will increase pathogen virulence and host susceptibility will be tested in a temperature and pH controlled experimental system. This system will also allow the potential synergistic effects of temperature and acidification on host immunity and co-infection dynamics to be explored.
The primary intellectual merit of the proposed work will be a greater understanding of how changing climate mediates co-infection and immunity in a non-model invertebrate. While fungal pathogens are primarily opportunistic, labyrinthulid protozoans are recognized as primary pathogens in shellfish. Even in shellfish, little is known about co-infections involving labyrinthulids, and these protists are entirely unstudied in corals.
The Broader impacts of this activity include training of undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers, as well as collaborations with established local (e.g. Ithaca Sciencenter) and international educational outreach programs (World Bank Global Environmental Fund: GEF). In addition, the public's fascination with coral reefs can be used as a tool in drawing attention to the global climate crisis. The considerable notice the investigators work has received from major national and international media has bolstered Cornell's science communication efforts. This public interest has also allowed then to participate in policy discussions that will influence global environmental policies, such as speaking before the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. The investigators collaborative efforts through the World Bank have also recently culminated in the publication of a Coral Disease Handbook and underwater ID cards that will coordinate international coral reef management. The project will further support these efforts to communicate the need for continued support of the marine sciences, climate studies, and proactive management programs.