Join us in congratulating new lab member Haley Davis on being selected as the 2021-2022 recipient of the Paul Dritenbas Memorial Scholarship by the Sunrise Rotary Club of Vero Beach. This scholarship program honors Paul's legacy supporting research and conservation efforts for Indian River Lagoon ecosystems. This scholarship, coupled with an award to Voss Lab from Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, will support Haley’s master's thesis research at FAU Harbor Branch investigating hyposalinity stress tolerances of coral species commonly found on Saint Lucie Reef, just outside the St. Lucie Inlet. Over the past several years, controlled freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee have impacted the environmental health of the Indian River Lagoon, the Saint Lucie Estuary, and Saint Lucie Reef. However, lethal hyposalinity tolerance thresholds have yet to be determined for important stony coral inhabitants of this region. Identifying these tolerance thresholds for corals will help to inform best management practices regarding duration and intensity of controlled freshwater releases downstream of Lake Okeechobee.
We are excited to provide an update on our recent emergency intervention expedition to Dry Tortugas National Park. Led by Dr. Karen Neely of NSU, our team completed the largest SCTLD-intervention effort to date. The team consisted of Dr. Neely, Sydney Gallagher and Michelle Dobler from Nova Southeastern University and from FAU Harbor Branch Dr. Joshua Voss, Erin Shilling, Gabby Pantoni, Allie Klein, and Ashley Carreiro of the Voss Lab. Over the course of the 10 day cruise, we treated 6,038 coral colonies of 27 different species spanning an area of reef equal to 146 football fields at Bird Key near Fort Jefferson. This cruise was a fantastic success, and gives us hope that future intervention expeditions can protect vital coral reef habitats throughout Florida.
NSU press release here
Cruise photo album here
Several members of the Voss Lab have been invited to join a research mission to Dry Tortugas National Park led by Dr. Karen Neely of Nova Southeastern University to treat stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD)-affected corals. Dry Tortugas NP consists of several small islands and their surrounding waters about 70 miles from Key West. The park, which lies within the westernmost region of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is a popular travel destination for diving and snorkeling due to its abundant coral reef and associated marine life. Until recently, the Dry Tortugas were the last remaining region of Florida’s Coral Reef to be unaffected by SCTLD. Unfortunately, in May 2021 members of the park’s Coral Response Team observed signs of SCTLD while conducting disease monitoring (see report here). The three species initially identified to have SCTLD were Meandrina meandrites, Meandrina jacksoni, and Dichocoenia stokesii, which are all highly susceptible species and are typically the first to show signs of the disease in a region.
The goal of the upcoming cruise is to treat SCTLD infected corals with an antibiotic paste consisting of Base 2B (Ocean Alchemists LLC) and amoxicillin. This is the most effective method for treating infected corals and preventing total colony mortality (see more on this treatment here and here). Divers will be surveying for infected colonies, treating them with Base 2b plus amoxicillin, and photographically recording all infected/treated corals. The overarching goals of this effort are to protect as much of the spectacular coral reefs of the Dry Tortugas as possible and to provide opportunities for scientific exchange and optimizing best coral intervention practices between the NSU and FAU Harbor Branch teams.
Wish us luck, and stay tuned for our post cruise update next month!
The Voss Lab recently completed a 5-day research expedition to Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) as part of a collaborative NOAA CYCLE project with Dr. Santiago Herrera. The overall goal of this project, funded by NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, is to investigate connectivity of coral, sponge, and fish species between shallow and mesophotic coral ecosystems of FGBNMS including the new sanctuary expansion areas.
For this trip we were limited to only 5 divers due to COVID-19 safety protocols. The divers consisted of PI and executive director of the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration Research and Technology (CIOERT), Joshua Voss, Voss Lab graduate students Ryan Eckert, Alexis Sturm, and Ashley Carrerio, and long-time collaborator and colleague, Moody Gardens Dive Safety Officer Jake Emmert. Despite being short on science crew, during 5 days aboard R/V MANTA we collected more than 300 coral (Stephanocoenia intersepta, Orbicella faveolata) and sponge (Xestospongia muta) samples from shallow and mesophotic depths over 19 shallow and technical Trimix SCUBA dives. These samples will be combined with samples collected in 2018 to determine the levels of vertical and horizontal connectivity between coral and sponge populations in the northwest Gulf of Mexico using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genetic markers as a part of Ryan Eckert’s dissertation research.
We would like to sincerely thank the crew of R/V MANTA for a productive and safe week offshore, and FGBNMS staff for providing research permits and coordination.
New Collaborative Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Resistance and Resilience Project funded by FL DEP
The Voss Lab is excited to be a part of a large collaborative effort into researching disease resistance and resilience in the Mountainous Star Coral, Orbicella faveolata. Orbicella faveolata is a critical reef-building species, but populations across the Tropical Western Atlantic have undergone rapid population declines and are further threatened by SCTLD outbreaks. Populations of Orbicella faveolata in Florida waters have been the subject of extensive disease intervention efforts to stop the spread of SCTLD and preserve coral tissue. Successful disease intervention treatments on Florida’s Coral Reef have kept diseased reef-building corals alive, providing a unique opportunity to test intraspecific differences between groups of colonies with differing infection patterns. These colonies have been tagged and monitored over the past seven years and have demonstrated unique intraspecies variation in response to SCTLD; while some O. faveolata colonies are highly susceptible to the disease and can exhibit multiple active lesions, other, nearby O. faveolata colonies on the same reef appear resistant.
This study, funded by Florida's Department of Envronmental Protection, will provide a fundamental understanding of O. faveolata’s holobiont at genetic, morphological, biochemical and molecular scales across three time points. The team will identify differences in endosymbionts, genotypes, metabolites, microbes, biological pathways, immune responses, and histopathology. These differences will provide direction for future research to better identify SCTLD, understand the drivers behind intraspecies resistance variation, develop further disease treatment, and encourage restoration strategies. The outcomes of this project will be incorporated into an on-going coral disease response effort which seeks to improve understanding of the scale and severity of the coral disease outbreak on Florida’s Coral Reef. By identifying primary and secondary causes, researchers can create management strategies to remediate disease impacts, restore affected resources and, ultimately, prevent future outbreaks.
Our lab will be taking on the genotyping and microbe work with Allie Klein taking a lead on the analyses as part of her Master’s Thesis. All of the corals fromt he first time point have been collected and are ready for our 2bRAD and mRNA analysis pipelines.
The team includes:
Brian K. Walker, Research Scientist II, Nova Southeastern University
Andrew C. Baker, Associate Professor, University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
Neha Garg, Assistant Professor, Georgia Tech University
Julie L. Meyer, Assistant Professor, University of Florida
Karen Neely, Research Scientist, Nova Southeastern University
Valerie J. Paul, Director, Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce
Nikki Traylor-Knowles, Assistant Professor, University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
Joshua D. Voss, Associate Research Professor, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University
Aine Hawthorne, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Postgraduate Research Fellow
Cheryl M. Woodley, NOAA NOS NCCOS, Coral Health and Disease Program Manager
Thierry Work, Project leader, USGS National Wildlife Health Center Honolulu Field Station
This past month, the Voss lab has begun a new collaboration in a large-scale effort to outplant colonies of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD)-susceptible species along Florida's Coral Reef. More than 1,100 coral colonies have been outplanted for this project across the Florida reef tract from the most northern region in Martin County and south to Key West. The Voss lab is responsible for the outplanting and monitoring of the most northern outplant sites, found on St. Lucie Reef and in West Palm Beach. Three species of SCTLD-susceptible corals were chosen to be outplanted for this project; Orbicella faveolata, Pseudodiploria clivosa, and Montastraea cavernosa. Each site has 48 coral colonies that will be monitored by divers on a monthly basis over the next two years. The purpose of this outplanting experiment is to determine how these susceptible species respond to outplanting in the SCTLD endemic zone, where the majority of the highly susceptible species have died but evidence of the disease is still observed. This long-term study will provide insight for future management and restoration of SCTLD susceptible corals on Florida's Coral Reef.
The project is being led by The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and includes partners at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), Nova Southeastern University, Coral Restoration Foundation, Mote Marine Laboratory, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Biscayne National Park, Reef Renewal, and Florida Institute of Oceanography at Keys Marine Laboratory.
For more information on this project, click here.
A photo album for this project can be found here: Coral Restoration Team Trials 2021
New Voss Lab Publication: Genetic Connectivity and Refugial Potential of Shallow and Upper Mesophotic Coral Populations in FKNMS
We are happy to share our most recent article published in the journal Coral Reefs entitled “Population genetic structure of the broadcast spawning coral, Montastraea cavernosa, demonstrates refugia potential of upper mesophotic populations in the Florida Keys.” The paper is part of the journal’s upcoming special issue on Coral reef biodiversity and history: Insights from molecular phylogenetics, biogeography and population genetics. This publication is the second led by Voss Lab graduate student Lexie Sturm and is a critical component of her Ph.D. dissertation research at FAU Harbor Branch.
The full article can be downloaded here.
The study stemmed from a collaborative effort among Harbor Branch researchers to investigate the connectivity and health of shallow and mesophotic coral reefs across the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. On a 2019 joint ROV and technical diving mission based off of the RV FG Walton Smith, the Voss lab led ROV, shallow, and technical diving teams collecting samples of multiple benthic invertebrate species. Species targets included the scleractinian coral Montastraea cavernosa from paired shallow (0-30 m) and upper mesophotic (30-150 m) depth zones in the Northern and Southern Dry Tortugas, Lower Keys, and Upper Keys. These samples were then genotyped using a 2bRAD SNP library preparation approach that generated over 9,000 SNP loci.
From this genetic dataset we found that the level of vertical genetic connectivity between paired shallow and upper mesophotic populations varied significantly based on location. Shallow and upper mesophotic M. cavernosa populations in the Northern Dry Tortugas and the Upper Keys were genetically similar to one another. In contrast, populations were significantly differentiated across depth in the Lower Keys and Southern Dry Tortugas. While upper mesophotic populations in the Lower Keys and Southern Dry Tortugas were distinct from their shallow counterparts, there was evidence of relatively high levels of genetic connectivity to both the shallow and upper mesophotic populations downstream in the Upper Keys.
These results suggest that while vertical connectivity between paired shallow and mesophotic populations can vary, certain upper mesophotic populations may fill an important role in maintaining coral metapopulations throughout the Florida Keys. As threats to coral populations including SCTLD continue to disproportionately impact shallow reefs in the Florida Keys, an understanding of coral population dynamics of mesophotic reefs, and their connectivity to shallow reefs, becomes more and more critical to the development of future management strategies. We are continuing to generate SNP-based genetic datasets for other shallow and mesophotic M. cavernosa populations in the region to evaluate regional metapopulation dynamics and to assess genetic connectivity among the Florida Keys and other populations in the NW Gulf of Mexico, Cuba, Mexico, and Belize.
This work was funded by awards from NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research to the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology (CIOERT) at FAU Harbor Branch and student funding from the NSF GRFP, Women Divers Hall of Fame, and Florida Sea Grant Scholars program. We are grateful to all of our Harbor Branch colleagues, Jake Emmert (Moody Gardens), the Undersea Vehicle Program at University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the crew of the RV FG Walton Smith, and the University of Texas at Austin’s Genome Sequencing and Analysis Facility who participated or facilitated this collaborative research expedition and follow-up molecular analyses. Special thanks go to the co-authors of the study including fellow Voss Lab Members: PhD student, Ryan Eckert and MS student, Ashley Carreiro.
We are excited to congratulate Allie Klein on successfully proposing her Master’s thesis research titled, “Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Susceptibility and Resistance: Genomic and Microbiome Factors in Orbicella faveolata” Since its emergence in 2014, over 96,000 acres of the Florida Reef Tract have been impacted by stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD), severely impacting more than 20 coral species across multiple reef ecosystems. Orbicella faveolata is a critical reef-building species, but populations across the Tropical Western Atlantic have undergone rapid population declines and are further threatened by SCTLD outbreaks. O. faveolata has demonstrated unique intraspecies variation in response to SCTLD; while some O. faveolata colonies are highly susceptible to the disease and can exhibit multiple active lesions, other nearby O. faveolata colonies on the same reef appear resistant. The goal of this project is to better understand the molecular and genomic underpinnings that allow some O. faveolata colonies to be more resistant to SCTLD than others. Colonies of O. faveolata have been monitored over the past seven years and characterized based on observations of SCTLD progression, or lack thereof, as either: 1) apparently resistant, 2) moderately susceptible, or 3) highly susceptible. Coral tissue from each infection level will be sampled across two study sites to quantify and characterize potential drivers of this variable resistance and resilience. To determine if there are genetic differences driving relative susceptibility and/or resistance among the coral colonies, high-resolution restriction site-associated DNA sequencing will be used to generate suites of single nucleotide polymorphisms and quantify genomic variation. We aim to identify coral genotypes that should be prioritized as restoration candidates and to develop microbial biomarkers and screening approaches that can identify corals with subacute signs of infection. Coral microbial communities will also be characterized and tracked over time through disease progression. Bacteria community shifts will be identified through high-throughput amplicon sequencing of hypervariable regions of bacterial 16S ribosomal RNA genes. These data will be important for identifying potential differences in microbial taxa between SCTLD-resistant and SCTLD-susceptible corals. This project is a subset of a much larger collaboration and results from this research will be combined with histological, gene expression, and algal symbiont data to better understand intraspecific variation in SCTLD resistance, providing critical information for intervention and restoration efforts.
Our collaborators include researchers from Nova Southeastern University, University of Miami, University of Florida, Georgia Tech University, and the Smithsonian.
O. faveolata colonies of the three susceptibility groups (from left to right): apparently resistant, moderately susceptible, highly susceptible. (Photos by Brian Walker, Nova Southeastern University)
We are happy to announce the publication of our first stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) intervention manuscript, “Assessing the effectiveness of two intervention methods for stony coral tissue loss disease on Montastraea cavernosa” in Scientific Reports. Master’s graduate and current Coral Research Technician Erin Shilling is the first author on this study, which includes the majority of her Master’s thesis research.
The full article is open-access and can be downloaded here.
Additional coverage can be found in Science News and FAU's press release.
This experiment compared chlorinated epoxy and antibiotic methods to treat SCTLD lesions to study how successful they were at potentially halting the lesion/overall disease progression when compared to untreated, SCTLD-affected controls. We found that while the antibiotic treatment (which is comprised of amoxicillin combined with an ointment “Base 2B” made by Ocean Alchemists LLC) was 95% effective at healing individual lesions, it unfortunately did not prevent the colonies from developing new SCTLD lesions over time. These findings are still extremely promising in the face of the SCTLD outbreak, which continues to spread throughout the Caribbean and for which the cause remains unknown.
This project was made possible through a collaborative effort and funding through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Coral Disease Advisory Committee. Additional financial support for this research was provided by the PADI Foundation and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation. We would also like to give a huge thanks to Ryan Eckert, Jeff Beal, Alexis Sturm, Michael Studivan, Matt Roy, and Jimmy Nelson for all their contributions to the project. Plus, a big thank you to our amazing collaborators Karen Neely, Brian Walker, Cheryl Woodley, Val Paul, Kristi Kerrigan, and more for their input on experimental design and disease intervention methodology.