Coral Reefs

, 30:777 | Cite as

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

  • C. C. D’Aloia
  • J. E. Majoris
  • P. M. Buston


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.


Distribution patterns Microhabitat specialization Settlement Recruitment Aplysina fistularis Elacatinus lori 



We thank the Belizean government and Fisheries Department for permission to dive on the reefs of Belize and the staff at the Wee Wee Cay Marine Station for use of their facilities. We are also grateful to Phil Lobel, Lisa Lobel, and Amparo Carillo Gavilán for assistance in the field. Jelle Atema, Marian Wong, and three anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on this manuscript. Funding was provided by a start up award to Peter Buston from Boston University. All work was approved by Belize Fisheries and the Boston University IACUC.


  1. Almany GR (2003) Priority effects in coral reef fish communities. Ecology 84:1920–1935CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Almany GR (2004) Differential effects of habitat complexity, predators and competitors on abundance of juvenile and adult coral reef fishes. Oecologia 141:105–113CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Baeza JA (2008) Social monogamy in the shrimp Pontonia margarita, a symbiont of Pinctada mazatlanica, off the Pacific coast of Panama. Mar Biol 153:387–395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baeza JA, Stotz W, Thiel M (2001) Life history of Allopetrolisthes spinifrons, a crab associate of the sea anemone Phymactis clematis. J Mar Biol Assoc U K 81:69–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Belmaker J, Ben-Moshe N, Ziv Y, Shashar N (2007) Determinants of the steep species-area relationship of coral reef fishes. Coral Reefs 26:103–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belmaker J, Ziv Y, Shashar N (2009) Habitat patchiness and predation modify the distribution of a coral-dwelling damselfish. Mar Biol 156:447–454CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ben-Tzvi O, Abelson A, Polak O, Kiflawi M (2008) Habitat selection and the colonization of new territories by Chromis viridis. J Fish Biol 73:1005–1018CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Booth DJ (1992) Larval settlement-patterns and preferences by domino damselfish Dascyllus albisella Gill. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 155:85–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Booth DJ (1995) Juvenile groups in a coral-reef damselfish: density dependent effects on individual fitness and population demography. Ecology 76:91–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Buston PM (2002) Group structure of the clown anemonefish, Amphiprion percula. PhD thesis, Cornell UniversityGoogle Scholar
  11. Buston PM (2003) Forcible eviction and prevention of recruitment in the clown anemonefish. Behav Ecol 14:576–582CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Buston PM (2004) Territory inheritance in the clown anemonefish. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 271:S252–S254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Buston PM, Elith J (2011) Determinants of reproductive success in dominant pairs of clownfish: a boosted regression tree analysis. J Anim Ecol 80:528–538CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Colin PL (1975) Neon gobies. T.F.H Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJGoogle Scholar
  15. Colin PL (2002) A new species of sponge-dwelling Elacatinus (Pisces: Gobiidae) from the western. Caribbean Zootaxa 106:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Colin PL (2010) Fishes as living tracers of connectivity in the tropical western North Atlantic: I. Distribution of the neon gobies, genus Elacatinus (Pisces: Gobiidae). Zootaxa 2370:36–52Google Scholar
  17. Colleye O, Brié C, Malpot ME, Vandewalle P, Parmentier E (2008) Temporal variability of settlement in Carapidae larvae at Rangiroa atoll. Environ Biol Fish 81:277–285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Duckworth AR, Wolff CW (2007) Patterns of abundance and size of Dictyoceratid sponges among neighbouring islands in central Torres Strait, Australia. Mar Freshw Res 58:204–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Elliot JK, Elliot JM, Mariscal RN (1995) Host selection, location and association behaviors of anemonefishes in field settlement experiments. Mar Biol 122:377–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Elliott JK, Mariscal RN (2001) Coexistence of nine anemonefish species: differential host and habitat utilization, size and recruitment. Mar Biol 138:23–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Emlen ST (1982) The evolution of helping. I. An ecological constraints model. Am Nat 119:29–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Emlen ST (1991) The evolution of cooperative breeding in birds and mammals. In: Krebs jr, Davies NB (eds) Behavioural ecology: an evolutionary approach. 3rd Blackwell, Oxford, pp 301–307Google Scholar
  23. Fautin DG (1992) Anemonefish recruitment: the roles of order and chance. Symbiosis 14:143–160Google Scholar
  24. Gardiner NM, Jones GP (2010) Synergistic effects of habitat preference and gregarious behaviour on habitat use in coral reef cardinalfish. Coral Reefs 29:845–856CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. González-Sansón G, Aguilar C, Hernández I, Cabrera Y (2009) Effects of depth and bottom communities on the distribution of highly territorial reef fish in the northwestern region of Cuba. J Appl Ichthyol 25:652–660CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hixon MA, Jones GP (2005) Competition, predation, and density dependent mortality in demersal marine fishes. Ecology 86:2847–2859CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Holbrook SJ, Schmitt RJ (2002) Competition for shelter space causes density dependent predation mortality in damselfishes. Ecology 83:2855–2868CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Holbrook SJ, Schmitt RJ (2005) Growth, reproduction, and survival of a tropical sea anemone (Actinaria): benefits of hosting anemonefish. Coral Reefs 24:67–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jones GP (1986) Food availability affects growth in a coral-reef fish. Oecologia 70:136–139CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Kuwamura T, Yogo Y, Nakashima Y (1994) Population dynamics of goby Paragobiodon echinocephalus and host coral Stylophora pistillata. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 103:17–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lavett Smith CL, Tyler JC, Feinberg MN (1981) Population ecology and biology of the pearlfish (Carapus bermudensis) in the lagoon at Bimini, Bahamas. Bull Mar Sci 31:876–902Google Scholar
  32. Lesser MP (2006) Benthic-pelagic coupling on coral reefs: Feeding and growth of Caribbean sponges. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 328:277–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Levin PS, Tolimieri N, Nicklin M, Sale PF (2000) Integrating individual behavior and population ecology: the potential for habitat dependent population regulation in a reef fish. Behav Ecol 11:565–571CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. López E, Britayev TA, Martin D, San Martín G (2001) New symbiotic associations involving Syllidae (Annelida: Polychaeta), with taxonomic and biological remarks on Pionosyllis magnifica and Syllis cf. armillaris. J Mar Biol Assoc U K 81:399–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Maldonado M, Young CM (1998) Limits on the bathymetric distribution of keratose sponges: a field test in deep water. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 174:123–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mercado-Molina AE, Yoshioka PM (2009) Relationships between water motion and size-specific survivorship and growth of the demosponge Amphimedon compressa. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 375:51–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Munday PL, Jones GP, Caley MJ (1997) Habitat specialisation and the distribution and abundance of coral-dwelling gobies. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 152:227–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Neigel JE, Schmahl GP (1984) Phenotypic variation within histocompatibility-defined clones of marine sponges. Science 224:413–415CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Öhman MC, Munday PL, Jones GP, Caley MJ (1998) Settlement strategies and distribution patterns of coral-reef fishes. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 225:219–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Palumbi SR (1984) Tactics of acclimation: Morphological changes of sponges in an unpredictable environment. Science 225:1478–1480CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Porat D, Chadwick-Furman NE (2004) Effects of anemonefish on giant sea anemones: expansion behavior, growth and survival. Hydrobiologia 530(531):513–520Google Scholar
  42. Porat D, Chadwick-Furman NE (2005) Effects of anemonefish on giant sea anemones: ammonium uptake, zooxanthellae content and tissue regeneration. Mar Freshw Behav Physiol 38:43–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Roberts CM, Ormond RFG (1987) Habitat complexity and coral-reef fish diversity and abundance on red-sea fringing reefs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 41:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Roth MS, Knowlton N (2009) Distribution, abundance, and microhabitat characterization of small juvenile corals at Palmyra Atoll. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 376:133–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rützler K, Feller C (1999) Mangrove swamp communities: an approach in Belize. In: Yáñez-Arancibia A, Lara-Domínquez AL (eds) Ecosistemas de manglar en América Tropical. Instituto de Ecología A.C. México, UICN/ORMA, Costa Rica, NOAA/NMFS, Silver Spring, MD, pp 39–50Google Scholar
  46. Rützler K, Macintyre IG (1982) The habitat distribution and community structure of the barrier reef complex at Carrie Bow Cay, Belize. In: Rützler K, Macinture IG (eds) The Atlantic barrier reef ecosystem at Carrie Bow Cay, Belize, I. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, pp 9–45Google Scholar
  47. Sandin SA, Pacala SW (2005) Fish aggregation results in inversely density-dependent predation on continuous coral reefs. Ecology 86:1520–1530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Smith CL, Tyler JC (1972) Space resource sharing in a coral reef fish community. Bull Nat His Mus Los Angeles Co 14:125–178Google Scholar
  49. Srinivasan M (2003) Depth distributions of coral reef fishes: the influence of microhabitat structure, settlement, and post-settlement processes. Oecologia 137:76–84CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Sweatman HPA (1983) Influence of conspecifics on choice of settlement sites by larvae of two pomacentrid fishes (Dascyllus aruanus and D. reticulatus) on coral reefs. Mar Biol 75:225–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sweatman HPA (1985) The influence of adults of some coral-reef fishes on larval recruitment. Ecol Monogr 55:469–485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sweatman HPA (1988) Field evidence that settling coral reef fish larvae detect resident fishes using dissolved chemical cues. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 124:163–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tolimieri N (1998) The relationship among microhabitat characteristics, recruitment and adult abundance in the stoplight parrotfish, Sparisoma viride, at three spatial scales. Bull Mar Sci 62:253–268Google Scholar
  54. van Noordwijk AJ, De Jong G (1986) Acquisition and allocation of resources: their influence on variation in life history tactics. Am Nat 128:137–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. White JW, Warner RR (2007) Safety in numbers and the spatial scaling of density-dependent mortality in a coral reef fish. Ecology 88:3044–3054CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Whiteman EA, Cotê IM (2002) Cleaning activity of two Caribbean cleaning gobies: intra- and interspecific comparisons. J Fish Biol 60:1443–1458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wilkinson CR, Chesire AC (1989) Patterns in the distribution of sponge populations across the central Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 8:127–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wilkinson CR, Evans E (1989) Sponge distribution across Davies Reef, Great Barrier Reef, relative to location, depth, and water movement. Coral Reefs 8:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Williams DM, Sale PF (1981) Spatial and temporal patterns of recruitment of juvenile coral reef fishes to coral habitats within One Tree Lagoon, Great Barrier Reef. Mar Biol 65:245–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wilson JA (2005) Age class interactions in a marine goby, Elacatinus prochilos (Bohlke and Robins, 1968). J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 327:144–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wilson SK, Burgess SC, Cheal AJ, Emslie M, Fisher R, Miller I, Polunin NVC, Sweatman HPA (2008) Habitat utilization by coral reef fish: implications for specialists vs. generalists in a changing environment. J Anim Ecol 77:220–228CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Wong MYL (2010) Ecological constraints and benefits of philopatry promote group-living in a social but non-cooperatively breeding fish. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 277:353–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wong MYL, Buston PM, Munday P, Jones GP (2007) The threat of punishment enforces peaceful cooperation and stabilizes queues in a coral reef fish. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 274:1093–1099CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wong MYL, Munday PL, Buston PM, Jones GP (2008) Monogamy when there is the potential for polygyny: tests of multiple hypotheses in a group-living fish. Behav Ecol 19:353–361CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Zar JH (1984) Biostatistical analysis, 2nd edn. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. C. D’Aloia
    • 1
  • J. E. Majoris
    • 1
  • P. M. Buston
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biology and Marine ProgramBoston UniversityBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations