, Volume 440, Issue 1-3, pp 55-64

A sponge diversity centre within a marine ‘island’

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Abstract

The exposed and gulf-stream warmed south-west coast of Ireland has a Lusitanean fauna composed of elements of the colder waters to the north and east, and others from the warmer Mediterranean Sea. Lough Hyne, a small marine body, is unusual on this coast in being very sheltered, but also in being characterised by many different niches within a small space (1 km2). Sponges are particularly abundant, morphologically varied and more than 100 species have been described. Species diversity was measured at 6 m intervals on vertical and inclined profiles (to a maximum of 30 m) at six sites, spanning a range of flow rate and sedimentation regimes. Diversity, richness, evenness and density varied significantly with both flow regime and depth, but was much lower on the surrounding Atlantic coast. Four different sponge communities were differentiated on the basis of sponge species assemblages which correlated with different environmental conditions. At sites of turbulent and fast flow conditions, sponge diversity and richness were lowest, with the highest values being found at the sites of moderate and high sedimentation. Significant differences were observed in all four ecological variables with respect to substratum angle with the exception of the site experiencing the most turbulent flow conditions. Lough Hyne was found to possess the second highest sponge species diversity (H=3.626) and richness (77 species) of all available figures from temperate, polar and tropical areas (of similar sized sampling area). The uniqueness, diversity and species composition of the sponge community at this location suggests Lough Hyne is, biologically, a marine island within the island of Ireland.