Sponges: An essential component of Caribbean coral reefs
Sponges are an important structural and functional component of Caribbean coral reefs. We support this statement with our data on sponge diversity, abundance, productivity, and participation in nutrient cycling from Carrie Bow Cay on the Barrier Reef of Belize and from comparative studies in other Caribbean locations. Sponges have at least six biological and ecological properties that make them an influential part of Caribbean coral-reef ecosystems: high diversity, higher than all coral groups combined; high abundance (area coverage) and biomass (weight, volume) that may exceed values for all other reef epibenthos in some areas and reef zones; capacity to mediate non-animal processes such as primary production and nitrification through complex symbioses; chemical and physical adaptation for successful space competition; capability to impact the carbonate frame-work through calcification, cementation, and bioerosion; and potential to alter the water column and its processes through high water filtering capabilities and exhalation of secondary metabolites. We conclude that thorough and informed study of sponges is indispensable when characterizing, assessing, or monitoring a coral reef.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: September 1, 2001
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