Report

Surviving in a Marine Desert: The Sponge Loop Retains Resources Within Coral Reefs

Science  04 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6154, pp. 108-110
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241981

You are currently viewing the abstract.

View Full Text
As a service to the community, AAAS/Science has made this article free with registration.

Sponge Pump

“Darwin's Paradox” asks how productive and diverse ecosystems like coral reefs thrive in the marine equivalent of a desert. De Goeij et al. (p. 108) now show that coral reef sponges are part of a highly efficient recycling pathway for dissolved organic matter (DOM), converting it, via rapid sponge-cell turnover, into cellular detritus that becomes food for reef consumers. DOM transfer through the sponge loop approaches the gross primary production rates required for the entire coral reef ecosystem.

Abstract

Ever since Darwin’s early descriptions of coral reefs, scientists have debated how one of the world’s most productive and diverse ecosystems can thrive in the marine equivalent of a desert. It is an enigma how the flux of dissolved organic matter (DOM), the largest resource produced on reefs, is transferred to higher trophic levels. Here we show that sponges make DOM available to fauna by rapidly expelling filter cells as detritus that is subsequently consumed by reef fauna. This “sponge loop” was confirmed in aquarium and in situ food web experiments, using 13C- and 15N-enriched DOM. The DOM-sponge-fauna pathway explains why biological hot spots such as coral reefs persist in oligotrophic seas—the reef’s paradox—and has implications for reef ecosystem functioning and conservation strategies.

View Full Text

Cited By...