Latitudinal variation in spongivorous fishes and the effectiveness of sponge chemical defenses
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- Ruzicka, R. & Gleason, D.F. Oecologia (2008) 154: 785. doi:10.1007/s00442-007-0874-0
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It has been proposed that predation pressure declines with increasing latitude and a positive correlation exists between predation intensity and the investment into chemical defenses. However, little direct evidence supports the idea that tropical species are better defended chemically than their temperate counterparts. Temperate reefs of the South Atlantic Bight (SAB) off Georgia, USA, provide a unique opportunity to study tropical sponges in a temperate environment. We documented sponge species richness and abundance, sponge predator density, and examined the ability of eight sponge species to chemically deter predation by fishes on two reefs in the SAB. We used rarefaction analysis and ANOVA to compare our results for sponge species richness and density, respectively, with similar published studies conducted on reefs of the sub-tropical Atlantic (i.e., Florida Keys). These analyses were combined with similar statistical comparisons for spongivorous fish species richness and density. Results showed that sponge species richness was lower, but sponge density was higher, on the temperate SAB reefs than on the subtropical reefs. Both spongivorous fish diversity and density were lower on the SAB reefs. The greater abundance of sponges and lower density of predators on SAB reefs suggest a lower frequency of predation on sponges on SAB reefs. Of the eight sponge species assayed from the SAB reefs, five possessed chemical extracts that were significantly less deterrent to fish predators than their tropical/subtropical conspecifics. When the results were combined across all sponge species, the chemical deterrence of fish predators was significantly lower for extracts obtained from the temperate sponge community as compared to the tropical/subtropical assemblage. These results support the more general hypothesis that a lower density and diversity of sponge predators occurs at high as compared to low latitudes in the western Atlantic and may contribute to decreased investment in chemical defenses.