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Description and distribution of Desmacella hyalina sp. nov. (Porifera, Desmacellidae), a new cryptic demosponge in glass sponge reefs from the western coast of Canada


Glass sponges (Porifera, Hexactinellida) form globally unique reefs that support deep-sea biodiversity in the Canadian northeast Pacific. In February 2017, the largest known reefs were protected within the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area (HSQCS-MPA). Many studies that have established baseline biodiversity data for the MPA have focused on describing the crustaceans and fish living in the reefs, but the relationship between glass sponges and sponge epibionts has often been overlooked. We studied one of the more conspicuous sponge epibionts of the genus Desmacella Schmidt, 1870, a demosponge that encrusts the surface of reef-forming glass sponges. Using a remotely operated vehicle, samples of an encrusting sponge with three color morphotypes (yellow, white, and mauve) were collected from the northern reef complex of the HSQCS-MPA. Spicule and DNA analyses of COI sequences revealed the white morphotype to be distinct from the previously described species, D. austini Lehnert, Conway, Barrie & Krautter, 2005. Comparisons with other Desmacella samples collected from other regions in British Columbia waters since 1976 confirmed this to be a new species, which we describe here as Desmacella hyalina sp. nov. We also mapped the spatial distribution of the color morphotypes on the reefs and found that Desmacella spp. formed nearly 20% of live sponge cover at some sampling sites indicating its potential importance in the reefs. Our results expand on knowledge of the diversity of sponge epibionts in glass sponge reefs and highlight the importance of understanding cryptic species diversity especially for future monitoring in marine protected areas.

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We thank the Captain and crew of the CCGS John P. Tully and the ROV ROPOS team for their invaluable help with underwater surveys and sampling. We thank E. Matveev, N. Grant, C. Pennelly, M. Theiss, S. Archer, and A. Dunham for assistance with fieldwork, S. Dang and C. Davis (University of Alberta Molecular Biology Service Unit) for help with DNA extraction and molecular analyses, and N. Gerein (EAS Scanning Electron Microscopy Laboratory) for assistance with electron microscopy. We thank the reviewers for their helpful comments, which have greatly improved the manuscript.


This study was financially supported by the following: NSERC Canadian Healthy Oceans Network (CHONeII) and its partners: Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and INREST (representing the Port of Sept-Îles and City of Sept-Îles) (NETGP 468437-14, CHONe Project 2.2.3); Fisheries and Oceans Ship Time and National Conservation Plan to A.D., Fisheries and Oceans Academic Research Contribution Plan to S.P.L., and NSERC Discovery and Ship Time to S.P.L.

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Correspondence to Sally P. Leys.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed by the authors.

Field studies and sampling

Sampling was carried out with collection permits XR 197, 237, 228, 230, and 164 from 2012 to 2018 to S.P.L.

Data availability

The sequence data generated during this analysis have been deposited in GenBank and are listed in Table 5 and are available at the University of Alberta Education and Research Archive (ERA): Samples of specimens have been deposited with the Royal British Columbia Museum. Accession numbers for DNA and samples are provided in Table 5 and are available at the University of Alberta Education and Research Archive:

Author contributions

L.K.L. and S.P.L. conceived and designed the research. B.S.O. and N.M. collected additional specimens; H.M.R. carried out spicule analysis. K.C.G. conducted spatial analysis. A.S.K. assisted with field collections. C.D. carried out gene analysis and data management. L.K.L. and S.P.L. wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

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Law, L.K., Reiswig, H.M., Ott, B.S. et al. Description and distribution of Desmacella hyalina sp. nov. (Porifera, Desmacellidae), a new cryptic demosponge in glass sponge reefs from the western coast of Canada. Mar. Biodivers. 50, 55 (2020).

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  • Glass sponges
  • Porifera
  • Cryptic diversity
  • Marine protected areas
  • Desmacella
  • Epibionts
  • Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound
  • Hexactinellida