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Keywords:

  • bioaccumulation;
  • community composition;
  • competition;
  • native animals;
  • overgrowth;
  • recipient environment;
  • reciprocal transplant;
  • sponge;
  • water quality

Abstract

Human activities have inflicted profound damage upon many ecosystems, and ecologists are now seeking effective means of restoring ecosystems to their natural state. Industrial ports and harbors are highly modified and often depauperate in native fauna. They are typically characterized by poor water quality and modified community composition, both of which may hinder attempts to reintroduce native species. Here, we conducted a field experiment to separate the effects of the recipient environment and community composition on the success of endemic sponge explants in Port Kembla Harbor, NSW, Australia. A reciprocal transplant was conducted between communities originating from six sites that varied in water quality and community composition, enabling us to assess the relative factors simultaneously. A colony of the endemic sponge Tedania anhelans was then inserted into the center of each community, and we quantified the survival, growth, and metal bioaccumulation of sponges over three months. Endemic sponges consistently performed better against resident assemblages when water quality was good. Sponges transplanted to cleaner sites had over double the survivorship and approximately three times the surface area of sponges transplanted to disturbed sites. These patterns were independent of community composition. Bioaccumulation of metals in sponges was correlated with survival; however, other factors such as turbidity may be required to explain sponge mortality at some sites. This study adds to evidence that remediation of the physical and chemical environments may be a prerequisite for biological remediation and demonstrates the value of experimental transplants in assessing restoration potential.