Fellow 2002-03

Bruce W Fouke



Coral reefs, like rain forests, are threatened core reservoirs of biodiversity on our planet. One of the most promising approaches to protecting and preserving coral reefs is to better understand the development of coral disease via the emerging field of geomicrobiology. With this new approach, physical and chemical environmental analyses are integrated with studies of microbial phylogenetic diversity and gene expression to track interactions among seawater, bacteria, and host coral colonies.

During his Center appointment, Professor Fouke and his research group plan to determine the environmental conditions and microbial ecology associated with development of the most virulent of the coral diseases, black band disease (BBD), in three species of corals. Their pilot studies on Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles, and the New Britain coast of Papua New Guinea have indicated that BBD is a microbial mat consisting of a diverse assemblage of bacteria that migrate across and kill living corals at rates exceeding 1 cm/day.

Their research will focus on determining the anthropogenic and natural environmental cues (e.g., sewage and hydrocarbon pollution, increases in sea-surface temperature) that may trigger and propagate BBD development. Integrative techniques developed in this study will link marine environmental chemistry with coral pathogenesis and thus permit monitoring and reclamation approaches to be developed for coral reef ecosystems around the world.