Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Marine Biology and Fisheries (Marine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

John W. McManus

Second Committee Member

Peter W. Glynn

Third Committee Member

Michael C. Schmale

Fourth Committee Member

Donald L. DeAngelis

Fifth Committee Member

Bernhard Riegl

Sixth Committee Member

Esther C. Peters


Understanding coral disease dynamics within the heterogeneous populations in which they act is critical for predicting how the structure of reefs may change as a result of enzootic or epizootic levels of these important sources of mortality. This work focused on combining field studies and the development and testing of a spatially-explicit, individual-based epizootiological computer model with the aim of gaining a greater understanding of the dynamics and impact of white plague, a significant source of mortality on reef-building corals in the Caribbean region. Field studies focused on the incidence and distribution of all sources of coral mortality, including suspect white plague in situ, at two locations; the Florida Keys (United States of America) and Little Cayman Island (Cayman Islands, British West Indies). Results indicated that in both regions disease was the most significant source of mortality during the monitoring time periods, and that suspect white plague type II in Cayman is likely contributing to major structural changes. In Florida, observations made during a mass bleaching event indicated that a significant relationship exists between bleaching severity and disease incidence, and that mortality during the event was largely the result of disease and not bleaching. The simulation model was developed using a long-term data set from Little Cayman, and results of calibration indicated that suspect white plague type II on these reefs is transmissible between colonies within a limited field and require a yearly input from an outside source, and that host susceptibility to infection is low and likely not variable among species. Parameters describing the distribution and composition of the coral population were varied, and results indicated a significant effect of colony density, aggregation, and mean size on the impact of disease. Scenario testing of various disease management strategies indicated that should local prevention measures be developed in the future, it is they, and not treatment, that will likely be the most effective in limiting the impact of disease.


Epizootiological Modeling; Ecological Modeling; Coral Bleaching; Coral Disease Epizootiology; Coral Disease; Agent-based Modeling; Coral Disease Modeling