Coral reefs are threatened by a variety of factors including diseases that have caused significant damage in some regions such as in the Caribbean. At present, no data are available on coral diseases in the Mexican Pacific where Pocillopora spp. is a dominant component of coral communities. Here, we describe gross and microscopic morphology of lesions found in pocilloporids at four sites in the Mexican Pacific. Corals were identified and their lesions photographed and quantified in the field. Tissue samples were collected from healthy and affected colonies for histopathology. We recorded seven species of pocilloporids at the study sites with Isla Isabel being the location with the highest coral diversity (H′ = 1.27). Lesions were present in 42% of the colonies and included discoloration (32%), predation-induced tissue loss (30%), unexplained tissue loss (3%) and overgrowth by sponges or algae (35%). The most affected species, P. damicornis (50%), was also one of the most common in the region. No species was more prone to a particular lesion, but there was a significant association between location and the presence of lesions. Northern Islas Marietas (61%) and Isla Isabel (41%) had the highest prevalence of lesions, followed by Manzanillo (37%) and Bahías de Huatulco (23%). Histological changes included atrophy of the surface body wall with depletion of zooxanthellae (91%) in corals with discoloration (bleaching). Ablation of tissue from mesoglea (18%) was also observed. Colonies with unexplained tissue loss showed atrophy and thinning of the epidermis (89%), characterized by cuboidal instead of pseudocolumnar cells normally found in healthy pseudocolumnar ciliated epithelium. Bacterial aggregates between the mesoglea and gastrodermis (11%) were very conspicuous in healthy and diseased corals. Lesions produced by fish bites and gastropods were associated with tissue atrophy (40%) and, in some cases, algal overgrowth near the lesion (20%). No infectious agents associated with cell pathology were detected microscopically. Bleaching and overgrowth by algae and sponges, as well as unexplained tissue loss, are common in Pocillopora. These lesions and anatomical changes warrant further study since their incidence is potentially indicative of reef degradation.
Additional Publication Details
Gross and microscopic pathology of lesions in Pocillopora spp. from the subtropical eastern Pacific