Disentangling the spatial distributions of a sponge-dwelling fish and its host sponge
Characterizing spatial patterns of occurrence can lend insight into the ecological processes that determine how individuals are distributed within their environment. When microhabitat specialist fishes and their invertebrate hosts are co-distributed, disentangling their respective spatial patterns is a complex problem. Here, we use point pattern analysis (PPA) to examine the spatial distributions of a host sponge Aplysina fistularis and its resident goby Elacatinus lori from a fully censused plot at Curlew Cay, Belize (16°47′23″N 88°04′33″W), sampled in summer 2011. The PPA approach allowed us to disentangle the spatial distribution of sponges and the spatial distribution of goby-occupied sponges. After controlling for depth and the distribution of hard substrate, we found that the sponges were clustered at small scales (< 4.5 m) within the censused area. After controlling for sponge clustering, we found that goby-occupied sponges were neither clustered nor over-dispersed within the censused area. Two fish age classes, recent settlers and established residents, were closely associated at small scales (< 3.5 m). We discuss alternative ecological and behavioral hypotheses for the cause of these spatial patterns. Despite the limited application of PPA in marine ecology, we demonstrate the potential use of this statistical analysis in disentangling the spatial structure of co-distributed populations and providing preliminary insights into the processes that may account for their respective distributions.
The authors thank the major funding source for this fieldwork (start-up grant for PMB provided by Boston University). We thank Udel Foreman, John Majoris, Alissa Rickborn and Marian Wong for assistance in the field; Robin Francis for sharing unpublished data; and John Finnerty and two anonymous reviewers for comments on this manuscript.
All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for fieldwork, sampling, care, and use of organisms for the study and all necessary approvals have been obtained via Boston University IACUC protocol #10-036 and the Belize Fisheries Department. Funding was provided by a start-up award from the Trustees of Boston University, and by NSF awards OCE-1260424 and OCE-1459546, to PMB.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
During the writing of this manuscript, KCL was supported by a Warren McLeod Fellowship and a Teaching Fellowship at Boston University, and CCD was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada strategic grant to M-JF. All authors declare that we have neither conflict of interest with funding sources nor the submission of this manuscript.
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