MELBOURNE, FLA.—Robert van Woesik, Florida Institute of Technology professor of biological sciences, has been awarded a $257,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for research into the potential contagiousness of coral diseases. His project will develop quantitative approaches to assess the clustering of infectious and non-infectious coral diseases, which are decimating the corals. When diseases cluster they are usually contagious; when not, there is usually a secondary cause of infection.
Although diseases are one of the greatest threats to corals in the Caribbean, very little is known about marine diseases in general and coral diseases in particular. Van Woesik will test whether coral diseases follow a contagious-disease model over two areas of distribution in the Caribbean. The study will be conducted in locations with and without a recent history of frequent thermal stress, which is another factor linked to coral die-offs. Van Woesik’s team will also test whether coral diseases are the result of compromised coral hosts that have undergone thermal stress. He and his team will also perform experiments to determine whether coral diseases are transmissible.
“There is a certain urgency to identify coral diseases, predict their prevalence and determine whether they are infectious and contagious or non-communicable. By understanding the etiology of coral diseases we can determine whether human intervention will help reduce their prevalence,” said van Woesik.