Assessing and monitoring coral reef sponges: Why and how?
Functional roles of sponges in coral reef ecosystems include: increasing coral survival by binding live corals to the reef frame and preventing access to their skeletons by excavating organisms; mediating regeneration of physically damaged reefs by temporary stabilization of carbonate rubble; reworking of solid carbonate through bioerosion; recycling nutrients and adding to primary production through microbial symbionts with special biochemical capabilities; clearing the water column of procaryotic plankton; serving as food for a variety of megafauna; and attracting support for responsible human stewardship of coral reefs with aesthetically appealing colors and morphologies. Nevertheless, sponges tend to be avoided in assessment and monitoring of coral reefs because they are not easy to quantify or identify, and because we have only recently begun to understand the importance of their many functional roles. As we gain more understanding of these roles of sponges in coral reefs, the need to carefully assess and monitor changes in sponges is becoming more clear. Focus on functional roles dictates choice of methods for assessing and monitoring sponges, as follows: (1) volume will generally be the most useful way to quantify sponge populations; (2) accurate identification to genus, family, or even order, combined with a brief description and reference to voucher specimens, is preferable to guesses on species names, in cases for which identification can't be verified by specialists; (3) permanently marked sites must be monitored over time in order to be able to detect community changes and to distinguish beneficial from detrimental effects of sponges on corals.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: September 1, 2001
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