The number of reports of coral diseases has increased throughout the world in the last 20 years. Aspergillosis, which primarily affects Gorgonia ventalina and G. flabellum, is one of the few diseases to be characterized. This disease is caused by Aspergillus sydowii, a terrestrial fungus with a worldwide distribution. Upon infection, colonies may lose tissue, and ultimately, mortality may occur if the infection is not sequestered. The spores of A. sydowii are <5 ??m, small enough to be easily picked up by winds and dispersed over great distances. Aspergillosis is prevalent in the Caribbean, and it appears that this primarily terrestrial fungus has adapted to a marine environment. It has been proposed that dust storms originating in Africa may be one way in which potential coral pathogens are distributed and deposited into the marine environments of the Caribbean. To test the hypothesis that African dust storms transport and deposit pathogens, we collected air samples from both dust storms and periods of nondust in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Because we focused on fungal pathogens and used A. sydowii as a model, we isolated and cultured fungi on various types of media. Fungi including Aspergillus spp. were isolated from air samples taken from dust events and non-dust events. Twenty-three separate cultures and seven genera were isolated from dust event samples whereas eight cultures from five genera were isolated from non-dust air samples. Three isolates from the Virgin Islands dust event samples morphologically identified as Aspergillus spp. produced signs of aspergillosis in seafans, and the original pathogens were re-isolated from those diseased seafans fulfilling Koch's Postulates. This research supports the hypothesis that African dust storms transport across the Atlantic Ocean and deposit potential coral pathogens in the Caribbean.
Additional publication details
The relationship between gorgonian coral (Cnidaria: Gorgonacea) diseases and African dust storms