Sponges act as important microhabitats in the marine environment and promote biodiversity by harboring a wide variety of macrofauna, but little is known about the magnitude and patterns of diversity of sponge-associated communities. This study uses DNA barcoding to examine the macrofaunal communities associated with Stylissa carteri in the central Saudi Arabian Red Sea, an understudied ecosystem with high biodiversity and endemism. In total, 146 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) were distinguished from 938 successfully-sequenced macrofauna individuals from 99 sponges. A significant difference was found in the macrofaunal community composition of S. carteri along a cross-shelf gradient using OTU abundance (Bray–Curtis dissimilarity index), with more amphipods associated with offshore sponges and more brittle stars and fishes associated with inshore sponges. The abundance of S. carteri also showed a gradient, increasing with proximity to shore. However, no significant differences in macrofaunal community composition or total macrofauna abundance were observed between exposed and sheltered sides of the reefs and there was no significant change in total macrofauna abundance along the inshore–offshore gradient. As climate change and ocean acidification continue to impact coral reef ecosystems, understanding the ecology of sponges and their role as microhabitats may become more important for understanding their full ramifications for biodiversity.
Bibliographical noteKAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledged KAUST grant number(s): CRG-1-2012-BER-002
Acknowledgements: Funding: Fieldwork was supported by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Office of Competitive Research Funds under grant number CRG-1-2012-BER-002 and baseline research funds to MLB. Acknowledgments: We would like to thank the KAUST Coastal and Marine Resources Core Lab for fieldwork and logistic support. We thank Royale Hardenstine for her help in the field and contribution of Figure 3a. We thank Rodrigo Villalobos Vazquez de la Parra and Héloïse Rouzé for their assistance with lab and analysis procedures. All of the laboratory analyses were conducted in and with the support of the L.A.B. facilities of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington, DC, USA). We give much thanks and appreciation to Michael Campbell for creating the map used as Figure 1.