, Volume 687, Issue 1, pp 163–177 | Cite as

Role of deep sponge grounds in the Mediterranean Sea: a case study in southern Italy

  • Marzia Bo
  • Marco Bertolino
  • Giorgio Bavestrello
  • Simonepietro Canese
  • Michela Giusti
  • Michela Angiolillo
  • Maurizio Pansini
  • Marco Taviani


The Mediterranean spongofauna is relatively well-known for habitats shallower than 100 m, but, differently from oceanic basins, information upon diversity and functional role of sponge grounds inhabiting deep environments is much more fragmentary. Aims of this article are to characterize through ROV image analysis the population structure of the sponge assemblages found in two deep habitats of the Mediterranean Sea and to test their structuring role, mainly focusing on the demosponges Pachastrella monilifera Schmidt, 1868 and Poecillastra compressa (Bowerbank, 1866). In both study sites, the two target sponge species constitute a mixed assemblage. In the Amendolara Bank (Ionian Sea), where P. compressa is the most abundant species, sponges extend on a peculiar tabular bedrock between 120 and 180 m depth with an average total abundance of 7.3 ± 1.1 specimens m−2 (approximately 230 gWW m−2 of biomass). In contrast, the deeper assemblage of Bari Canyon (average total abundance 10.0 ± 0.7 specimens m−2, approximately 315 gWW m−2 of biomass), located in the southwestern Adriatic Sea between 380 and 500 m depth, is dominated by P. monilifera mixed with living colonies of the scleractinian Madrepora oculata Linnaeus, 1758, the latter showing a total biomass comparable to that of sponges (386 gWW m−2). Due to their erect growth habit, these sponges contribute to create complex three-dimensional habitats in otherwise homogenous environments exposed to high sedimentation rates and attract numerous species of mobile invertebrates (mainly echinoderms) and fish. Sponges themselves may represent a secondary substrate for a specialized associated fauna, such zoanthids. As demonstrated in oceanic environments sponge beds support also in the Mediterranean Sea locally rich biodiversity levels. Sponges emerge also as important elements of benthic–pelagic coupling in these deep habitats. In fact, while exploiting the suspended organic matter, about 20% of the Bari sponge assemblage is also severely affected by cidarid sea urchin grazing, responsible to cause visible damages to the sponge tissues (an average of 12.1 ± 1.8 gWW of individual biomass removed by grazing). Hence, in deep-sea ecosystems, not only the coral habitats, but also the grounds of massive sponges represent important biodiversity reservoirs and contribute to the trophic recycling of organic matter.


Deep benthos Porifera Mediterranean Sea Biodiversity Pelagic–benthic coupling 



We are grateful to Masters, Crew and shipboard staff onboard R/V Astrea and R/V Urania during MoBioMarCal (August 2009) and ARCADIA (March 2010) missions, respectively. We would like to thank Dr. Sinniger (Bangor University, UK) for his suggestions concerning zoanthid taxonomy. The work in the Amendolara Bank has been conducted by ISPRA (ex ICRAM), within the project no. 327, and financed by the Calabrian Regional Council for Environment. The work undertaken through MoBioMarCal is affiliated to the European Census of Marine Life. The ROV investigation of the Bari Canyon has been partly funded by the E.U. HERMIONE program (contract number 226354) and ship-time provided by CNR. This is ISMAR-CNR, Bologna scientific contribution no. 1742


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Marzia Bo
    • 1
  • Marco Bertolino
    • 1
  • Giorgio Bavestrello
    • 1
  • Simonepietro Canese
    • 2
  • Michela Giusti
    • 2
  • Michela Angiolillo
    • 2
  • Maurizio Pansini
    • 3
  • Marco Taviani
    • 4
  1. 1.Dip. Scienze della Vita e dell’AmbienteUniversità Politecnica delle MarcheAnconaItaly
  2. 2.ISPRARomeItaly
  3. 3.Dip. per lo Studio del Territorio e delle sue RisorseUniversità degli Studi di GenovaGenoaItaly
  4. 4.ISMAR-CNRBolognaItaly

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