Symbiotic zooxanthellae enhance boring and growth rates of the tropical sponge Anthosigmella varians forma varians
- Cite this article as:
- Hill, M.S. Marine Biology (1996) 125: 649. doi:10.1007/BF00349246
Several species of boring sponges harbor symbiotic zooxanthellae, and it is believed that the symbiont enhances boring activity of host sponges. This hypothesis was tested using manipulative field experiments to assess the effect of intracellular zooxanthella populations on boring rates of the tropical sponge Anthosigmella varians forma varians. Portions of sponge were attached to 60 calcium carbonate blocks of known weight. Three sets of 10 blocks were grown at high light levels and three sets of 10 blocks were grown at low light levels for 105 d in the Florida Keys, Florida, USA. Boring rates, growth rates (lateral growth and within-substratum tissue penetration), and zooxanthella populations were measured at the end of the experiment. Absolute rates of boring and growth of A. varians forma varians were significantly greater when zooxanthella densities were higher. Boring rate and tissue penetration related to final surface area of sponge attachment was also enhanced when zooxanthella densities were higher, suggesting that the symbiont plays a physiological role in the decalcification process. This is in contrast to the role that zooxanthellae play in coral hosts. Based on the results of this study, it appears that the presence of zooxanthellar symbionts has important ecological and life-history consequences for host sponges. Ability to laterally overgrow competitors will be correlated with the size and activity of zooxanthella populations. In addition, the fitness of host sponges will be enhanced by algal symbionts, since greater penetration within substrata will result in an increase in production of tissue that can be converted into storage, feeding and reproductive functions.