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“White Syndromes” are a collection of coral diseases that share the common lesion characteristic of acute tissue loss. Because they encompass up to 13 different diseases that affect a variety of different species, white syndromes are the most common coral diseases throughout the world. White syndromes can be highly lethal and often occur in multi-species outbreak events, and have therefore caused severe population losses in scleractinian corals over the last four decades.
White syndrome lesions are characterized by the acute loss of both polyp and the coenosarc tissues with a distinct margin separating intact tissue from the exposed skeleton, with no apparent microbial community or abnormal growth patterns present at the lesion margin. The surface of the skeleton generally remains intact, and the degree of skeletal fouling with encroaching algae and other organisms can be used to estimate lesion progression rates in the field (for example, a large area of white, “fresh” skeleton suggests that the tissue is receding so rapidly that the skeleton has not been exposed long enough for substantial fouling). Depending on the specific disease, species, and location, lesions can be highly variable in their shape (annular, circular, irregular, linear, oblong), distribution (focal, multifocal, coalescing, linear), and location on the colony (basal, medial, apical). Linear rates of tissue loss can also vary greatly, ranging anywhere from 1mm/ day to over 10cm/ day.
Because of this wide variability in lesion appearance and affected species, white syndromes are highly enigmatic and are the cause of some controversy in disease nomenclature among studies and locations. Likewise, determining the causes of these syndromes is also difficult and oftentimes inconclusive. Suspected pathogens can vary depending on the sampling locations and methods, and in some cases, more than one pathogen can be associated with corals that exhibit similar lesions.
White syndromes are differentiated based on the species affected, rates of tissue loss, location of lesions, and patterns of advance. The most common and thoroughly described white syndromes are the following: