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NSU Scholarship Fishing Tournament

Megan Bock

Megan Bock in the Florida Keys, navigating to the CRF coral nursery

Project Summary:

Since the 1970s, populations of the reef-building coral Acropora cervicornis have rapidly declined throughout the Caribbean. Consequently, it has been listed as critically endangered under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List and threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Population losses in the Caribbean have reached up to 98% in some areas and have primarily been attributed to white-band disease (WBD) and rapid tissue loss (RTL). A positive linear relationship between disease prevalence and increased water temperature has been described, however, the pathogens of WBD and RTL, their vectors, and their transmission are poorly understood. With an estimated average sea-surface temperature rise of 1.8‒4.0 °C by the end of the 21st century, higher incidences of coral bleaching and disease outbreak are predicted.

To survive in the future climate, temperature- and/or disease-resistant genotypes must be able to survive and reproduce. In order to predict future population success of A. cervicornis in this warming environment,   I am investigating the following: (1) Disease transmission using different experimental transmission techniques; (2) Genotypic resistance or susceptibility to disease among genotypes of A. cervicornis from the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF); (3) Synergistic effects of temperature and disease on the health and survival of A. cervicornis genotypes.

Not only will this provide valuable information for future disease studies and for nursery managers, but this data will enhance the overall understanding of disease resistance in the local A. cervicornis population. Identifying genotypes that are both thermal tolerant and disease resistant will help to direct conservation efforts of nursery managers and allow ecologists to predict future population success of this species within southern Florida. This is crucial for maintaining reef integrity and preventing the extinction of A. cervicornis in the years to come.

Since receiving the 2016 Fishing Tournament Scholarship, I have completed 2 out of 3 major experiments towards this project, with the final experiment planned for October 2017. I have presented my findings at the 2016 Southeastern Ecology and Evolution Conference in Tallahassee, FL, the 2017 Benthic Ecology Meeting in Myrtle Beach, SC and the 2017 Association of Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean meeting in Merida, Mexico, where I received a 2nd place award for best student presentation. The support I’ve received from the Fishing Tournament Scholarship has helped alleviate financial stress of tuition, allowing me to focus on my research. This has helped me immensely as I come closer towards completing my master’s degree in Marine Science and become an active member of the scientific community.

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