Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. Earth Science News .

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

Marine virus outbreaks linked to coral bleaching
by Staff Writers
Houston TX (SPX) Feb 18, 2016

A section of the Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia underwent bleaching in early 2011. Researchers found that a viral outbreak coincided with the bleaching. Image courtesy A.M.S. Correa/Rice University. For a larger version of this image please go here.

A study by biologists from Rice University and Oregon State University has found that significant outbreaks of marine viruses may be associated with coral bleaching events, especially as a result of multiple environmental stresses.

The new findings in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology document a viral outbreak that occurred as corals were bleaching - losing color as a byproduct of expelling symbiotic algae that live in the corals' tissues - in part of the Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia. Researchers who studied the reef with support from the National Science Foundation found three viral groups, including a herpes-like virus, in the outbreak.

The loss of sugars donated by the algae - the major food source for corals - can leave corals more susceptible to disease or being overgrown by reef competitors. In severe or prolonged cases, bleaching can be lethal to corals.

"It is well established that bleaching can occur if environmental stress, such as unusually high temperatures, makes the photosynthetic machinery in symbiotic algae go haywire," said study lead author Adrienne Simoes Correa, a marine biologist in Rice's Department of BioSciences. "During this particular event, we saw conditions get tough for coral colonies, then the reef bleached and we observed very high abundances of several kinds of viruses in these corals, all within a period of a few days."

Correa said it's possible that viral infection of corals' symbiotic algae may have contributed to the bleaching in these colonies.

"If true, that would open up a whole new way to think about bleaching," Correa said.

The study's authors said the research is especially significant because Earth is now experiencing just the third recorded incidence of mass coral bleaching on a global scale.

"People all over the world are concerned about long-term coral survival," said study corresponding author Rebecca Vega-Thurber, an assistant professor of microbiology in Oregon State's College of Science. "This research suggests that viral infection could be an important part of the problem that until now has been undocumented and has received very little attention."

While viruses are abundant, normal and diverse residents of stony coral colonies, they can become a serious threat to corals when their numbers reach extremely high levels. In the new study, researchers observed a coral reef near Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef in 2011 as it was exposed to multiple stresses from high levels of ultraviolet light at low tides during a period of heavy rain and high temperatures.

During the period of observation, researchers found that viral loads in the corals exploded to levels two to four times higher than any previously recorded, and a significant bleaching event occurred at the same time as the viral outbreak.

The viruses included retroviruses, megaviruses and a type of herpes virus, which was particularly abundant. Herpes viruses are ancient and are found in a wide range of mammals, marine invertebrates, oysters, corals and other animals.

Vega-Thurber said the findings suggest that a range of stresses, particularly high water temperatures such as those that can be caused by an El Nino event and global warming, may have made the corals susceptible to viral attack.

"This is bad news," Vega-Thurber said. "This bleaching event occurred in a very short period on a pristine reef. It may recover, but incidents like this are now happening more widely all around the world."

Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared that the world is now experiencing its third global coral-bleaching event, the last two being in 1998 and 2010. The latest global bleaching event began in the northern Pacific Ocean in 2014, moved south in 2015 and may continue into this year, NOAA officials said. NOAA estimated that by the end of last year, almost 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs were exposed to ocean conditions that can cause corals to bleach.

"Coral reefs around the world are in trouble because human actions have abnormally warmed seas, polluted reefs with nutrients and killed off the fish that used to eat coral-smothering algae," Correa said. She said the viral outbreak in the latest study was linked with exposure to air and heavy rainfall at low tide, but it's possible that other types of stress could foster the same sort of outbreaks.

"We need to get back out on the reef and determine whether massive viral infections also occur in direct response to fertilizer runoff and other land-based nutrient pollution," Correa said. "We have a special chance to tackle this question right now in terms of high-temperature stress, given the ongoing global bleaching event."

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only


Related Links
Rice University
Water News - Science, Technology and Politics

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
Disease, warming oceans rock lobster and sea star populations
Ithaca NY (SPX) Feb 17, 2016
Two new Cornell University studies show how diverse marine organisms are susceptible to diseases made worse by warming oceans. The first study warns that warm sea temperatures in 2015 may increase the levels of epizootic shell disease in American lobster in the northern Gulf of Maine in 2016. The second provides the first evidence linking warmer ocean temperatures with a West Coast epidemic of s ... read more

Turkish warplanes enter Greek airspace ahead of NATO migration operation

Australian hospital refuses to return asylum baby to Nauru

Erdogan threatens to send refugees to EU as NATO steps in

Characterizing the smell of death may help rescue workers at disaster sites

Body temperature triggers newly developed polymer to change shape

Light used to measure the 'big stretch' in spider silk proteins

Making sense of metallic glass

Not your grandfather's house, but maybe it should be

Rising Seas Slowed by Increasing Water on Land

Southwest sliding into a drier climate

Study finds fish larvae are better off in groups

Testing detects algal toxins in Alaska marine mammals

Ice sheet modeling of Greenland, Antarctica helps predict sea-level rise

150,000 Antarctica penguins die after iceberg grounding: study

Clams help date duration of ancient methane seeps in the Arctic

Penguin parents: Inability to share roles increases their vulnerability to climate change

Kansas State University researchers staying ahead of wheat blast disease

DNA rice breakthrough raises 'green revolution' hopes

Enhanced levels of carbon dioxide are likely cause of global dryland greening

Livestock donations to Zambian households yield higher income, improved diet

5.8-magnitude quake hits New Zealand city: USGS

Tragic tales of loss in Taiwan as search for quake survivors ends

New app turns smartphones into worldwide seismic network

One dead in Portugal floods as cyclist swept away

It takes more than a village to build a house

DR Congo announces ivory trafficking arrests

Gloom hangs over African mining as China growth slows

Sudan names new military chief amid Darfur clashes: ministry

Easter Island not destroyed by war, analysis of 'spear points' shows

South Africa's Sterkfontein Caves produce 2 new hominin fossils

Neanderthal DNA has subtle but significant impact on human traits

Light and manganese to discover the source of submerged Roman marble

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement