Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Climate change, disease, and pathogen resistance: Immune systems in soft (alcyonacean) vs. hard (scleractinian) corals dictate survivorship


Annis Water Resource Institute


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Life Sciences


Climate changes are causing bacteria on many coral reefs to rapidly proliferate resulting in a major decrease of live coral cover worldwide and a complete shift toward an algae dominated ecosystem. In many cases, the diseases are similar and, in those cases where a causative agent has been identified, the pathogens are the same. Our preliminary observations indicate that disease is either rare or non-existent in many soft (alcyonacean) corals vs. the high levels known to exist in hard (scleractinian) corals. Our objectives of the study was to determine what particular aspects of each organisms (hard vs. soft coral) immune system allowed one coral to be comprised and the other to be not-infected. Using advanced image flow cytometry, preliminary results have shown us that a well-developed innate immune system exists in many soft coral more so than hard coral, possessing at least three types of innate cells. Because innate immune systems have evolved over millions of years, sentinel cells (e.g., macrophages) have evolved receptors, termed pattern-recognition receptors (PRR), that, in soft corals, seem better at recognizing invariant infections and bacteria, preventing disease. We hypothesize that the immune responses in some corals may be compromised solely based upon the number of symbionts they possess. We predict corals with fitter immune systems will survive global warming and disease, that they will be more resistant to temperature increases, and they will not suffer from high levels of infection. [Note: I am both a presenter and a Co-chair at this conference]

Conference Name

The International Conference on Coelenterate Biology

Conference Location

Eilat, Israel

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