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Chen CCM, Bourne DG, Drovandi C, Mengersen K, Willis BL, Caley MJ, Sato Y.2016. Modelling environmental drivers of black band disease outbreaks in populations of foliose corals in the genus Montipora . PeerJ Preprints4:e2558v1https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2558v1
Seawater temperature anomalies associated with warming climate have been linked to increases in coral disease outbreaks that have contributed to coral reef declines globally. However, little is known about how seasonal scale variations in environmental factors influence disease dynamics at the level of individual coral colonies. In this study, we applied a multi-state Markov model (MSM) to investigate the dynamics of black band disease (BBD) developing from apparently healthy corals and/or a precursor-stage, termed ‘cyanobacterial patches’ (CP), in relation to seasonal variation in light and seawater temperature at two reef sites around Pelorus Island in the central sector of the Great Barrier Reef. The model predicted returning rate from BBD to Healthy in three months was approximately 57%, but 5.6% of BBD cases resulted in whole colony mortality. Healthy coralcolonies were more susceptible to BBD during summer months when light levels were at their maxima and seawater temperatures were either rising or at their maxima. In contrast, CP mostly occurred during spring, when both light and seawater temperatures were rising. This suggests that environmental drivers for healthy coral colonies transitioning into a CP state are different from those driving transitions into BBD. Our model predicts that (1) the transition from healthy to CP state is best explained by rising light, (2) the transition between healthy to BBD occurs more frequently from early to late summer, (3) 20% of CP infected corals developed BBD, although light and temperature appeared to have limited impact on this state transition, and (4) the number of transitions from healthy to BBD differed significantly between the two study sites, potentially reflecting differences in localised wave action regimes.