Hexactinellid sponges are important members of deep-sea benthic ecosystems because they provide available hard substrate habitats for filter-feeding invertebrates. However, symbioses between hexactinellid sponges and their symbionts are poorly known. Zoantharians associated with hexactinellid sponges have been reported widely from deep-sea marine ecosystems, either on the bodies or stalks of hexactinellid sponges. Despite these records, there has been a lack of research on their diversity and phylogenetic relationships. In this study, 20 specimens associated with amphidiscophoran and hexasterophoran sponges were collected from the waters of Australia and Japan in the Pacific, and from Curaçao in the southern Caribbean, and these were examined in addition to museum specimens. Based on molecular phylogenetic analyses and morphological observations, we formally describe two new genera and three new species of Zoantharia and report several previously described species. The results suggest at least two independent origins for the symbioses between hexactinellid sponges and zoantharians. Our results demonstrate that the diversity of hexactinellid sponge-associated zoantharians is much higher than has been previously thought. The new taxa described in this work further reconfirm that the deep-sea harbours high levels of undescribed zoantharian diversity.
Request access to article here