Sponges are increasingly recognized as an ecologically important taxon on coral reefs, representing significant biomass and biodiversity where sponges have replaced scleractinian corals. Most sponge species can be divided into two symbiotic states based on symbiont community structure and abundance (i.e., the microbiome), and are characterized as high microbial abundance (HMA) or low microbial abundance (LMA) sponges. Across the Caribbean, sponge species of the HMA or LMA symbiotic states differ in metabolic capacity, as well as their trophic ecology. A metagenetic analysis of symbiont 16 S rRNA and metagenomes showed that HMA sponge microbiomes are more functionally diverse than LMA microbiomes, offer greater metabolic functional capacity and redundancy, and encode for the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites. Stable isotope analyses showed that HMA and LMA sponges primarily consume dissolved organic matter (DOM) derived from external autotrophic sources, or live particulate organic matter (POM) in the form of bacterioplankton, respectively, resulting in a low degree of resource competition between these symbiont states. As many coral reefs have undergone phase shifts from coral- to macroalgal-dominated reefs, the role of DOM, and the potential for future declines in POM due to decreased picoplankton productivity, may result in an increased abundance of chemically defended HMA sponges on tropical coral reefs.
Lesser, M.P., Sabrina Pankey, M., Slattery, M. et al. Microbiome diversity and metabolic capacity determines the trophic ecology of the holobiont in Caribbean sponges. ISME COMMUN. 2, 112 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43705-022-00196-3
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