Variability in the spatial association patterns of sponge assemblages in response to environmental heterogeneity
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- Bell, J.J., Berman, J., Jones, T. et al. Mar Biol (2010) 157: 2503. doi:10.1007/s00227-010-1514-5
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Previous work on tropical sponge assemblages has provided strong evidence that sponges coexist on coral reefs through a diversity of positive and negative associations; however, the majority of this work has focused on Caribbean coral reefs. Here, we investigate the intra-phyletic spatial associations between the 20 most abundant sponge species at two sites experiencing different environmental regimes in the Wakatobi National Marine Park, Indonesia. We used a Monte Carlo simulation approach to compare the number of spatial associations between each species pair to that expected if species distribution patterns were non-associative (i.e. random). We found that sponges were predominately randomly distributed at the high coral cover site, whereas most sponges were negatively associated with other sponges at the sedimented, low coral cover site. We also found differences between distribution patterns for specific species at the two sites; a number of species that showed a random distribution pattern at the high coral cover site had negative association patterns at the low coral cover site. Our research supports recent ecological studies suggesting that interactions between species are unlikely to be homogenously distributed, as we found that some sponge species interactions differed depending on the environmental regimes in which they were found; this suggests that species interactions may be spatially variable. Finally, our results contrast with studies from elsewhere, as the sponge assemblages at these two sites in the Wakatobi appear to be dominated by negative associations and random distribution patterns rather than widespread competition.