Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Pamela Hallock Muller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Paul Anderson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mya Breitbart, Ph.D.


aquaria, coral disease, Biolog EcoplateTM, coral histology


Stony corals (Order Scleractinia) are susceptible to a variety of diseases, which can occur from abiotic or biotic factors, or a combination of both. Public aquaria provide opportunities to study coral disease. Because coral mucus is the first line of defense against disease, the Biolog EcoplateTM is a useful tool to detect differences in microbial assemblages in the surface mucopolysaccharide (mucus) layer when comparing healthy and diseased corals. Histological examination is essential to document structural changes in coral tissue in response to diseases. This study identifies and characterizes diseases in captive corals through visual recognition, characterization of carbon utilization by microbial assemblages in coral mucus samples, and histological examination. In March 2010, surveys were sent to public aquaria throughout the United States that house corals. If the survey was returned indicating that the aquarium had diseased coral specimens present, sample kits were sent to the aquarium to acquire photographs, mucus samples for microbial carbon utilization analysis, and tissue samples for histological examination. Eighteen aquaria participated in the survey and 25 sets of samples were provided. The gross lesions from diseased samples fit into six categories: discoloration associated with darkening of the tissue or with color loss (bleaching), growth anomalies, and tissue loss associated with pests, with brown jelly, or with no obvious cause. Seven categories of possible contributing factors were reported: addition of inadequately quarantined corals to the tank, damage during transport, change of location, manual stress, and variations in light, salinity, or temperature. Introduction of inadequately quarantined specimens was the most common possible contributing factor to pest introduction. Significant differences in carbon source utilization were found between tank-water samples and mucus from both healthy and diseased areas of sampled corals. Although mucus samples from healthy and diseased samples did not differ in carbon source utilization overall, D-mannitol was used by 52% of microbial assemblages from mucus from diseased areas compared with only 17% of microbial assemblages from healthy mucus samples. Histologically, the most commonly observed features across all samples were healthy zooxanthellae, endolithic organisms, and nematocysts, all of which are normal features that can be influenced by stress factors. Brown granular material and ciliates were found associated with some anomalies, primarily the three categories of tissue loss. The presence of dense aggregates of zooxanthellate-engorged ciliates in corals afflicted with brown jelly was highly similar to histological observations of brown band syndrome, previously described from natural coral reefs.