Magazine article Science News

Killer CLOD Strikes Indo-Pacific Reefs

Magazine article Science News

Killer CLOD Strikes Indo-Pacific Reefs

Article excerpt

Over the next few weeks, dozens of biologists, particularly seaweed specialists, will receive a postcard of this color picture. But rather than discuss the pleasantries of a tropical vacation, the writing on the back warns these researchers to look out for this telltale orange color when they dive along reefs in Indo-Pacific. Their sightings will help researchers determine the extent of a plague that seems to have taken hold in these waters.

Though theses 4-inch-wide patches brighten the underwater landscape, they also forewarn of the spread of coralline lethal orange disease (CLOD), says Diane S. Littler, a marine botanist with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

She and her husband, Mark M. Littler, first noticed an orange coating on the seaweed in the Cook Islands last year. They then studied it more intensively in Fiji. CLOD, a bacterial infection, has spread also to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The bacteria seem most prevalent in the Cook Islands, where they now infect up to 5 percent of the reef seaweeds, says Diane Littler.

CLOD microbes attack coralline algae, underwater plants that deposit calcium carbonate in their tissues as they grow. "Most bacteria would infect just the surface layers of [of a plant]," Diane Littler says. "But somehow these [bacteria] are killing the [plant] clear down to the calcium carbonate.... It kills everything in its path."

All that remains is a white strip, a ghostlike reminder of where algae once grew. …

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