Math students study the effects of white syndrome diseases on coral 

Six students presented their research concerning the effects of white syndrome diseases on Guam’s coral populations using mathematical modeling this summer as part of the 2022 Summer Joint Math Research Program showcase held on July 20, 2023.  

The students – four UOG undergraduates, one high schooler, and one recent graduate –  were part of the Guam NSF EPSCoR Summer Math Research Experience held at the University of Guam.  

The Summer Math Research Experience was held concurrently along with the NSA Research Experience for Undergraduates and the Young Scholars Research Experience in Math.  

Due to Typhoon Mawar, the eight-week program was condensed to six weeks this year. Despite the shortened timeframe, the students were able to familiarize themselves with new mathematical concepts and programming tools while helping each other overcome various challenges.  

“They would help each other a lot,” said JC Saul, a Guam NSF EPSCoR research assistant and UOG alum. “Whenever there was a part of the data that didn’t make sense, the other group would try to find out what’s missing. Even though their projects are different, they would still try to help each other.”  

Using data provided by UOG Marine Laboratory Director Dr. Laurie Raymundo, participants focused on modeling the infection rate of white syndrome diseases on coral as well as how factors such as water quality and temperature can impact infected coral.  

White syndrome refers to a group of coral diseases that cause acute tissue loss. During an outbreak of white syndrome, the disease eats away at coral tissue, exposing the white coral skeleton. This disease is different from coral bleaching, white also turns coral white. Coral bleaching stresses the coral, making them more susceptible to disease, but does not immediately kill them.  

“Dr. Raymundo and her team had been monitoring coral restoration plots and they had planted some Acropora aspera in February 2022 and did monthly monitoring. In May 2022, they noticed the plot had contracted white syndrome disease, so they were able to track the progress of the outbreak until unfortunately, everything died by the beginning of August,” said Dr. Leslie Aquino, chair of UOG’s Division of Mathematics & Computer Science.   

Acropora aspera is a species of staghorn coral, a type of reef-building coral that is largely affected by white syndrome diseases.   

“The hopes I have for our project is to bring some attention to coral diseases and the state that corals are in right now,” said Ian Galang, an undergraduate secondary education major with a focus on mathematics. “From what we’ve read, a lot of people misunderstand coral and classify them as nonliving organisms, but they play a very big part of the aquatic environment and right now, they need help.”  

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