How does the proliferation of the coral-killing sponge Terpios hoshinota affect benthic community structure on coral reefs?
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Terpios hoshinota is an encrusting sponge and a fierce space competitor. It kills stony corals by overgrowing them and can impact reefs on the square kilometer scale. We investigated an outbreak of T. hoshinota in 2014 at the island of Mauritius to determine its impacts on coral community structure. Surveys were conducted at the putative outbreak center, an adjacent area, and around the island to determine the extent of spread of the sponge and which organisms it impacted. In addition, quadrats were monitored for 5 months (July–December) to measure the spreading rates of T. hoshinota and Acropora austera in areas both with and without T. hoshinota. The photosynthetic capabilities of T. hoshinota and A. austera were also measured. Terpios hoshinota was well established, covering 13% of an estimated 416 m2 of available hard coral substrate at the putative outbreak center, and 10% of an estimated 588 m2 of available hard coral substrate at the adjacent area. The sponge was observed at only one other site around Mauritius. Terpios hoshinota and A. austera increased their planar areas by 26.9 and 13.9%, respectively, over five months. No new colonies of T. hoshinota were recorded in adjacent sponge-free control areas, suggesting that sponge recruitment is very low during austral winter and spring. The sponge was observed to overgrow five stony corals; however, it showed a preference for branching corals, especially A. austera. This is the first time that a statistically significant coral substrate preference by T. hoshinota has been reported. Terpios hoshinota also had a significantly higher photosynthetic capacity than A. austera at irradiance >500 μmol photons m−2 s−1, a possible explanation for its high spreading rate. We discuss the long-term implications of the proliferation of T. hoshinota on community structure and dynamics of our study site.
KeywordsMauritius Encrusting sponges Competition Photosynthesis nMDS
We would like to thank the Ministry of Fisheries, Government of Mauritius and Attitude Resorts for their support. Special thanks go to Tarik Gouhier for statistical assistance, Stephen Elliott, and Rishi Persand for field assistance, and all those who provided helpful discussion. Support for physiological measurements provided by US National Science Foundation Awards #1412462 and #1146056 and by Northeastern University. This is contribution number 332 from the Marine Science Center, Northeastern University.
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