Cold-water coral reefs (CWRs) in the northeast Atlantic harbor diverse sponge communities. Knowledge of deep-sea sponge ecology is limited and this leaves us with a fragmented understanding of the ecological roles that sponges play in CWR ecosystems. We present the first study of faunal biodiversity associated with the massive demosponge Spongosorites coralliophaga (Stephens, 1915) that typically colonizes coral debris fields of CWRs. Our study focused on the sessile fauna inhabiting sponges mixed with coral rubble at two contrasting settings in the northeast Atlantic: the shallow inshore (120–190 m water depth) Mingulay Reef Complex (MRC) and the deep offshore (500–1200 m) Logachev Mound (LM) coral province. MRC is dominated by the scleractinian Lophelia pertusa, while LM is dominated by L. pertusa and Madrepora oculata. Nine sponge–coral rubble associations were collected from MRC and four from LM. Measurements of abundance, species richness, diversity, evenness, dry biomass, and composition of sessile fauna on sponge and coral rubble microhabitats were undertaken. Differences in community composition between the two regions were mainly a response to changes in fauna with depth. Fauna composition was also different between sponge and coral rubble within each region. Infauna constituted a minor component of the sponge-associated fauna in MRC but had a higher contribution in LM. Sponge and coral rubble sessile fauna in both regions was mainly composed of cnidarians and molluscs, similarly to some previous studies. Sponges’ outer surfaces at MRC were colonized by a species-rich community with high abundance and biomass suggesting that S. coralliophaga at MRC acts as a settlement surface for various organisms but such a role is not the case at LM. This difference in the role of S. coralliophaga as a biological structure is probably related to differences in fauna composition with depth, bottom current speed, and the quantity/quality of food supplied to the benthos.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Aquatic Science