Cyanobacterial mats as benthic reservoirs and vectors for coral black band disease pathogens

The concurrent rise in the prevalence of conspicuous benthic cyanobacterial mats and the incidence of coral diseases independently markmajor axes of degradation of coral reefs globally. Recent advances have uncovered the potential for the existence of interactions between the expanding cover of cyanobacterial mats and coral disease, especially black band disease (BBD), and this intersection represents both an urgent conservation concern and a critical challenge for future research. Here, we propose links between the transmission of BBD and benthic cyanobacterial mats. We provide molecular and ecophysiological evidence suggesting that cyanobacterial mats may create and maintain physically favorable benthic refugia for BBD pathogens while directly harboring BBD precursor assemblages, and discuss how mats may serve as direct (mediated via contact) and indirect (mediated via predator–prey–pathogen relationships) vectors for BBD pathogens. Finally, we identify and outline future priority research directions that are aligned with actionable management practices and priorities to support evidence-based coral conservation practices.

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