Trophic niche separation that facilitates co-existence of high and low microbial abundance sponges is revealed by in situ study of carbón and nitrogen fluxes

Morganti, T.; Coma, R.; Yahel, G.; Ribes, M.
Limnology and Oceanography
doi: 10.1002/lno.105
Sponges are commonly divided into high (HMA) and low (LMA) microbial-abundance species according to the bacterial biomass in their tissue. These two groups reflect distinct aquiferous structures and feeding strategies. In the NW Mediterranean coralligenous community, HMA and LMA sponges are often packed in dense, multispecies assemblages that cover many pinnacles and overhangs. We investigated the metabolism of HMA and LMA species that cohabitate the coralligenous community by sampling in situ the inhaled and exhaled water. Sponges consumed plankton, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and ammonium in relation to their abundance in ambient water. The plankton retention efficiency was high for all species. DOC was the main source of C for the sponge species, accounting for  90% of the examined sources. Nitrogen fluxes markedly differed between the two groups: plankton was the main source of nitrogen for LMAs that excreted dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) and ammonium. The nitrogenous waste products of LMAs were found to be the major source of nitrogen (up to 97%) for HMAs that efficiently removed DON and ammonium and excreted nitrate. The different capacity of both sponge strategies to use dissolved resources suggests a partial trophic niche separation related to HMA-LMA dichotomy as a mechanism facilitating their dense co-existence in the community. Our findings suggest that a mixed assemblage of sponges (and their associated microbes) is able to utilize the suspended particulate and dissolved material more efficiently than a single species population and may contribute to the understanding of the phenomena of the stability and diversity of dense sponge assemblages in oligotrophic habitats.
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