The use of volunteers for conducting sponge biodiversity assessments and monitoring using a morphological approach on Indo-Pacific coral reefs


  • James J. Bell

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Wales, Aberystwyth, Institute of Biological Sciences, Aberystwyth, UK
    • School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, P.O. Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand
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  • 1.Sponges are an important component of coral reef ecosystems, but even though they are widespread with the ability to significantly influence other benthic community members they rarely feature to any great extent in current monitoring or biodiversity assessment programmes conducted by volunteer and professional groups. This exclusion is usually because of the taxonomic problems associated with sponge identification.
  • 2.A potential alternative to monitoring temporal or spatial change in sponge assemblages and assessing biodiversity levels is to characterize sponges using morphologies present rather than collecting species data. Quantifying sponge biodiversity (for monitoring and biodiversity assessments) at the morphological level is less time and resource consuming than collecting species data and more suited to groups with little training and experience of sponge taxonomy or in regions where detailed taxonomic information on sponges is sparse.
  • 3.This paper considers whether the same differences and similarities in sponge richness and assemblage composition can be identified using species and morphological data in response to environmental gradients at two coral reef ecosystems in south-east Sulawesi, Indonesia, and whether volunteers can be used to reliably collect morphological information. Sponge morphologies were classified into 14 groups and different morphological assemblages were found by the author at the two sites and between depth intervals. Comparisons of sponge species and morphological composition data showed that common patterns in assemblage structuring and richness could be identified irrespective of whether morphological or species data were used. In addition, a positive linear relationship was found between sponge species and morphological richness.
  • 4.The morphological data recorded by volunteer divers (n=10) were compared with that collected by the author. Although volunteers recorded fewer sponges than the author (approximately 15% less), missing mainly small encrusting specimens, similar assemblage structure could be identified from both the volunteers' and the author's data.
  • 5.The results showed that the same differences in sponge assemblages between sites and depths could be identified from both species and morphological data. In addition, these morphological data could be reliably collected by volunteer divers.

Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.