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Odum School of Ecology Professor Publishes Reference for Diseases of Coral

Dec. 22, 2015

Writer: Christy Fricks, christyfricks@uga.edu

Contact: James Porter, jporter@uga.edu

Coral reefs are among the most valuable and diverse ecosystems on earth, generating income through tourism, providing shore-line protection, and acting as a shelter for many marine organisms. But they are rapidly declining.

“When coral reefs shrink, the economy shrinks. And in order to save coral reefs we have to understand how to protect them from the diseases that threaten them,” says James W. Porter, co-editor of Diseases of Coral, published in October 2015.

Porter, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology states that while there is “an accelerating interest in coral reef protection, there is a dearth of knowledge about how to protect corals themselves from the host of maladies that threaten their health.”

Diseases of Coral is intended to fill this gap by providing comprehensive descriptions, diagnostic procedures, and treatments for coral disease using a uniform vocabulary.

According to Porter, now, more than ever before, there is a great need for such a reference book. “Coral disease is becoming more common than it once was, even a decade ago,” he says.

Coral reefs thrive only within a narrow range of temperatures and water quality. As the ocean environment changes more rapidly, and the life-giving physical conditions change, coral reefs are becoming more and more susceptible to deadly pathogens.

Diseases of Coral also documents a rare “evolutionary triple jump.” While it is common to hear about human beings occasionally getting diseases from animals--for example swine flu, rabies and Ebola--humans can also spread disease to wildlife.

A bacterium from human guts is now infecting coral reefs. The human strain of the enterobacterium, Serratia marcescens, which causes the nosocomial disease serratiosis in humans, has also been found to kill coral.

“This is extremely rare to see a jump that goes from humans to coral. The bacterium goes from terrestrial to marine, from vertebrate to invertebrate, and from anaerobic to aerobic conditions on the reef. This transfer occurs via undertreated sewage, and the conservation message is clear. To protect coral, we have to protect water quality,” says Porter.

Diseases of Coral is co-edited by Cheryl Woodley, Craig Downs, Andrew Bruckner, James Porter and Sylvia Galloway and is published by Wiley- Blackwell Scientific Publishers.

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