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Open Access Research article

Diversity and abundance of photosynthetic sponges in temperate Western Australia

Marie-Louise Lemloh1, Jane Fromont2, Franz Brümmer1* and Kayley M Usher3

Author Affiliations

1 Abteilung Zoologie, Biologisches Institut, Universität Stuttgart, Pfaffenwaldring 57, 70569 Stuttgart, Germany

2 Department of Aquatic Zoology, Western Australian Museum, Locked Bag 49, Welshpool DC, Western Australia 6986, Australia

3 School of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia

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BMC Ecology 2009, 9:4  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-9-4

Published: 5 February 2009

Abstract

Background

Photosynthetic sponges are important components of reef ecosystems around the world, but are poorly understood. It is often assumed that temperate regions have low diversity and abundance of photosynthetic sponges, but to date no studies have investigated this question. The aim of this study was to compare the percentages of photosynthetic sponges in temperate Western Australia (WA) with previously published data on tropical regions, and to determine the abundance and diversity of these associations in a range of temperate environments.

Results

We sampled sponges on 5 m belt transects to determine the percentage of photosynthetic sponges and identified at least one representative of each group of symbionts using 16S rDNA sequencing together with microscopy techniques. Our results demonstrate that photosynthetic sponges are abundant in temperate WA, with an average of 63% of sponge individuals hosting high levels of photosynthetic symbionts and 11% with low to medium levels. These percentages of photosynthetic sponges are comparable to those found on tropical reefs and may have important implications for ecosystem function on temperate reefs in other areas of the world. A diverse range of symbionts sometimes occurred within a small geographic area, including the three "big" cyanobacterial clades, Oscillatoria spongeliae, "Candidatus Synechococcus spongiarum" and Synechocystis species, and it appears that these clades all occur in a wide range of sponges. Additionally, spongin-permeating red algae occurred in at least 7 sponge species. This study provides the first investigation of the molecular phylogeny of rhodophyte symbionts in sponges.

Conclusion

Photosynthetic sponges are abundant and diverse in temperate WA, with comparable percentages of photosynthetic to non-photosynthetic sponges to tropical zones. It appears that there are three common generalist clades of cyanobacterial symbionts of sponges which occur in a wide range of sponges in a wide range of environmental conditions.