Assessing the relationship between seagrass health and habitat quality with wasting disease prevalence in the Florida Keys

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Marine pathogens of the genus Labyrinthula have been identified as the cause of wasting disease in seagrass systems in both temperate and subtropical regions. An understanding of the association between environmental factors and the prevalence of wasting disease in seagrass meadows is important for elucidating plant-pathogen interactions in coastal environments. We conducted a survey of 7 turtle grass-dominated beds within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to assess the relationship between environmental and biological parameters on seagrass health. All sites contained Labyrinthula spp.; the most pathogenic strain was obtained from an anthropogenically impacted site. Leaf and total biomass, in addition to root/rhizome carbon content, canopy light and % light transmitted, all displayed strong negative correlations with a wasting index (WI). It was noted that many of the same environmental measurements that showed negative correlations with WI also displayed strong positive correlations with canopy light levels. These data suggest that light availability may be an important factor that has previously been understated in the seagrass disease literature yet warrants more attention with respect to turtle grass susceptibility to infection. Studies such as this are important because they identify gaps in our understanding of plant-pathogen interactions in subtropical marine ecosystems. Furthermore, the relationships identified in this study may offer insight into which factors are most useful in identifying "at-risk" meadows prior to the onset of larger scale die-off events. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.

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Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology



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