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Keywords:

  • Gorgonian;
  • growth;
  • height;
  • octocoral;
  • overgrowth;
  • porifera;
  • sponge;
  • water flow

Abstract

In benthic communities sponges commonly outcompete other organisms in the race for suitable space. Superior competitive ability allows them to grow and overgrow other sessile organisms, some of these being octocorals. Acquiring substratum space, a resource often more limiting than food, is the obvious benefit of these competitive interactions. However, sponges that overgrow larger structures such as branching octocorals also change their position in the water column, and potentially their access to food and exposure to grazers. This study explored the potential benefit of sponge–octocoral associations by examining the effect of height off the bottom on growth of two species of ropelike demosponges under natural conditions. The growths of Amphimedon compressa and Iotrochota birotulata were monitored over 12 months at Cross Harbour, Great Abaco, The Bahamas, using small (5-cm) sponge fragments that were established at three heights above the bottom (0–5, 30, 60 cm). Growth rates differed among the two species and among different heights. Over 12 months, the mean volumetric growth for A. compressa was 17.7 cm3 ± 1.4 compared with 8.9 cm3 ± 1.4 for I. birotulata. Both species had a higher growth rate at the 60-cm level. These results suggest that these ropelike sponges benefit from their association and growth on octocorals, not only by using the octocoral skeletal axis as support, but also by acquiring exposure to higher water flow.