, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 777-786

Predictors of the distribution and abundance of a tube sponge and its resident goby

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Abstract

Microhabitat specialists offer tractable systems for studying the role of habitat in determining species’ distribution and abundance patterns. While factors underlying the distribution patterns of these specialists have been studied for decades, few papers have considered factors influencing both the microhabitat and the inhabitant. On the Belizean barrier reef, the obligate sponge-dwelling goby Elacatinus lori inhabits the yellow tube sponge Aplysina fistularis. We used field data and multivariate analyses to simultaneously consider factors influencing sponge and goby distributions. Sponges were non-randomly distributed across the reef with density peaking at a depth of 10–20 m. Sponge morphology also varied with depth: sponges tended to be larger and have fewer tubes with increasing depth. Knowing these patterns of sponge distribution and morphology, we considered how they influenced the distribution of two categories of gobies: residents (≥18 mm SL) and settlers (<18 mm SL). Maximum tube length, number of sponge tubes, and depth were significant predictors of resident distribution. Residents were most abundant in large sponges with multiple tubes, and were virtually absent from sponges shallower than 10 m. Similarly, maximum tube length and number of sponge tubes were significant predictors of settler distribution, with settlers most abundant in large sponges with multiple tubes. The presence or absence of residents in a sponge was not a significant predictor of settler distribution. These results provide us with a clear understanding of where sponges and gobies are found on the reef and support the hypothesis that microhabitat characteristics are good predictors of fish abundance for species that are tightly linked to microhabitat.

Communicated by Biology Editor Prof. Philip Munday