DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE OF SPONGES OF THE GENUS IRCINIA (PORIFERA: DEMOSPONGIAE) IN THE SANTA MARTA AREA, COLOMBIAN CARIBBEAN
In tropical littoral environments, suspended organic matter favors the presence of sessile filter feeder organisms such as sponges, over those predominantly phototrophic such as algae and corals. In the Santa Marta area in the Colombian Caribbean, productivity is enhanced by alternating pulses of coastal upwelling and continental runoff, resulting in an important diversity and abundance of sponges. Species of the genus Ircinia (I. campana, I. felix and I.strobilina) are conspicuous and abundant in the rocky and reef biotopes of the area. To establish the influence of predominant environmental conditions on the distribution of these three species, their density, size and microhabitat preference, their form and color, the occurrence of predation signs, the incidence of epibionts and the existence of aggressive interactions with neighbors, were compared across depth (5-20 m), in two localities contrasted by their turbidity and turbulence regimes. As in other Caribbean areas, the general ranking of abundance was Ircinia felix>I.strobilina>I. campana, indicating intrinsic differences between species in their life history traits. In apparent relationship to the amount of suspended organic matter, the main food source for these species, it was found that density and individual size were significantly greater in the locality with turbid and calmer waters, in comparison with the locality with clearer and more turbulent waters; density was also greater in shallow and mid depths in the more turbid locality. Related to the effect that hydrodynamical forces exert on the shape of sessile organisms, the lower forms predominated in the more turbulent locality at all depths, and were proportionally more frequent in shallow waters than in deeper waters in the more calmer locality. The latter is perhaps due to the sporadic occurrence of generalized strong swells in the area. In these species the intensity of the color decrease with decreasing light (with depth and comparing cryptic vs. open microhabitats). The lower light penetration of the locality with greater turbidity also implied a slightly greater proportion of individuals with lighter colors in shallow waters. In the two localities, these species are found preferentially exposed to the light and on hard substratum, although I. strobilina could be often found tightly anchored to rubble. Predation signs and epibiosis were rare, in correlation with know chemical defenses. Although during the sampling clear cases of space competition were not recorded, in the study area these species can partially overgrow coral tissues.
Ircinia; Distribution; Size; Shape; Natural history
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