Sponges are important ecological and functional components of coral reefs. Recently, a new hypothesis about the functional ecology of sponges in organic matter recycling pathways, the sponge-loop hypothesis, in which dissolved and particulate organic matter is taken up by sponges and shunted to higher trophic levels as detritus, has been proposed and demonstrated for shallow (< 30 m) cryptic species. However, support for this hypothesis at mesophotic depths (∼ 30–150 m) is lacking. Here, we examined detritus production, a prerequisite of the sponge loop pathway, in a reciprocal transplant experiment, using Halisarca caerulea from water depths of 10 and 50 m. Detritus production was significantly lower in mesophotic sponges compared to shallow samples of H. caerulea. Additionally, detritus production rates in transplanted sponges moved in the direction of rates observed for resident conspecifics. The microbiome of these sponge populations was also significantly different between shallow and mesophotic depths, and the microbial communities of the transplanted sponges also shifted in the direction of their new depth in 10 d largely driven by changes in Oxyphotobacteria, Acidimicrobiia, Nitrososphaeria, Nitrospira, Deltaproteobacteria, and Dadabacteriia. This occurred in an environment where the availability of both dissolved and particulate trophic resources changed significantly across the shallow to mesophotic depth gradient where these sponge populations were found. These results suggest that changes in sponge detritus production are primarily driven by differential quality and quantity of trophic resources, as well as their utilization by the sponge host, and its microbiome, along the shallow to mesophotic depth gradient.
Jasper M. de Goeij
A paramount challenge in coral reef ecology is to estimate the abundance and composition of the communities residing in such complex ecosystems. Traditional 2D projected surface cover estimates neglect the 3D structure of reefs and reef organisms, overlook communities residing in cryptic reef habitats (e.g., overhangs, cavities), and thus may fail to represent biomass estimates needed to assess trophic ecology and reef function. Here, we surveyed the 3D surface cover, biovolume, and biomass (i.e., ash-free dry weight) of all major benthic taxa on 12 coral reef stations on the island of Curaçao (Southern Caribbean) using structure-from-motion photogrammetry, coral point counts, in situ measurements, and elemental analysis. We then compared our 3D benthic community estimates to corresponding estimates of traditional 2D projected surface cover to explore the differences in benthic community composition using different metrics. Overall, 2D cover was dominated (52 ± 2%, mean ± SE) by non-calcifying phototrophs (macroalgae, turf algae, benthic cyanobacterial mats), but their contribution to total reef biomass was minor (3.2 ± 0.6%). In contrast, coral cover (32 ± 2%) more closely resembled coral biomass (27 ± 6%). The relative contribution of erect organisms, such as gorgonians and massive sponges, to 2D cover was twofold and 11-fold lower, respectively, than their contribution to reef biomass. Cryptic surface area (3.3 ± 0.2 m2 m−2planar reef) comprised half of the total reef substrate, rendering two thirds of coralline algae and almost all encrusting sponges (99.8%) undetected in traditional assessments. Yet, encrusting sponges dominated reef biomass (35 ± 18%). Based on our quantification of exposed and cryptic reef communities using different metrics, we suggest adjustments to current monitoring approaches and highlight ramifications for evaluating the ecological contributions of different taxa to overall reef function. To this end, our metric conversions can complement other benthic assessments to generate non-invasive estimates of the biovolume, biomass, and elemental composition (i.e., standing stocks of organic carbon and nitrogen) of Caribbean coral reef communities.