Laboratory aquarium experiments demonstrated that Vibrio strain AK-1 caused rapid and extensive bleaching of the coral Oculina patagonica at 29°C, slower and less-complete bleaching at 23°C, and no bleaching at 16°C. At 29°C, the application of approximately 100 Vibrio strain AK-1 cells directly onto the coral caused 50 and 83% bleaching after 10 and 20 days, respectively. At 16°C, there was no bleaching even with an initial inoculum of 1.2 x 108 bacteria. To begin to understand the effect of seawater temperature on bleaching of O. patagonica by Vibrio strain AK-1, adhesion of the bacteria to the coral as a function of temperature was studied. Inoculation of 107 Vibrio strain AK-1 organisms into flasks containing 20 ml of seawater at 25°C and a fragment of O. patagonica resulted in net levels of bacterial adhesion to the coral of 45, 78, and 84% after 2, 6, and 8 h, respectively. The adhesion was inhibited 65% by 0.001% D-galactose and 94% by 0.001% methyl-β-D-galactopyranoside (β-M-Gal). After the incubation of Vibrio strain AK-1 with the coral for 6 h, 42% of the input bacteria were released from the coral with 0.01% β-M-Gal, compared to less than 0.2% when β-M-Gal was present during the adhesion step. Adhesion did not occur when Vibrio strain AK-1 was grown at 16°C, regardless of whether the corals were maintained at 16 or 25°C, whereas bacteria grown at 25°C adhered to corals maintained at 16 or 25°C. Bacteria grown at 25°C adhered avidly to Sepharose beads containing covalently bound β-D-galactopyranoside but failed to bind if grown at 16°C. These data suggest that elevated seawater temperatures may cause coral bleaching by allowing for the expression of adhesin genes of Vibrio strain AK-1.