Natural Diet of Coral-Excavating Sponges Consists Mainly of Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC)
Coral-excavating sponges are the most important bioeroders on Caribbean reefs and increase in abundance throughout the region. This increase is commonly attributed to a concomitant increase in food availability due to eutrophication and pollution. We therefore investigated the uptake of organic matter by the two coral-excavating sponges Siphonodictyon sp. and Cliona delitrix and tested whether they are capable of consuming dissolved organic carbon (DOC) as part of their diet. A device for simultaneous sampling of water inhaled and exhaled by the sponges was used to directly measure the removal of DOC and bacteria in situ. During a single passage through their filtration system 14% and 13% respectively of the total organic carbon (TOC) in the inhaled water was removed by the sponges. 82% (Siphonodictyon sp.; mean6SD; 13617 mmol L21) and 76% (C. delitrix; 10612 mmol L21) of the carbon removed was taken up in form of DOC, whereas the remainder was taken up in the form of particulate organic carbon (POC; bacteria and phytoplankton) despite high bacteria retention efficiency (72615% and 87610%). Siphonodictyon sp. and C. delitrix removed DOC at a rate of 4616773 and 3546562 mmol C h21 respectively. Bacteria removal was 1.860.961010 and 1.760.661010 cells h21, which equals a carbon uptake of 46.0621.2 and 42.5614.0 mmol C h21 respectively. Therefore, DOC represents 83 and 81% of the TOC taken up by Siphonodictyon sp. and C. delitrix per hour. These findings suggest that similar to various reef sponges coral-excavating sponges also mainly rely on DOC to meet their carbon demand. We hypothesize that excavating sponges may also benefit from an increasing production of more labile algal-derived DOC (as compared to coral-derived DOC) on reefs as a result of the ongoing coral-algal phase shift.