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PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e29569. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029569. Epub 2012 Jan 4.

Estimates of particulate organic carbon flowing from the pelagic environment to the benthos through sponge assemblages.

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School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand.


Despite the importance of trophic interactions between organisms, and the relationship between primary production and benthic diversity, there have been few studies that have quantified the carbon flow from pelagic to benthic environments as a result of the assemblage level activity of suspension-feeding organisms. In this study, we examine the feeding activity of seven common sponge species from the Taputeranga marine reserve on the south coast of Wellington in New Zealand. We analysed the diet composition, feeding efficiency, pumping rates, and the number of food particles (specifically picoplanktonic prokaryotic cells) retained by sponges. We used this information, combined with abundance estimates of the sponges and estimations of the total amount of food available to sponges in a known volume of water (89,821 m(3)), to estimate: (1) particulate organic carbon (POC) fluxes through sponges as a result of their suspension-feeding activities on picoplankton; and (2) the proportion of the available POC from picoplankton that sponges consume. The most POC acquired by the sponges was from non-photosynthetic bacterial cells (ranging from 0.09 to 4.69 g C d(-1) with varying sponge percentage cover from 0.5 to 5%), followed by Prochlorococcus (0.07 to 3.47 g C d(-1)) and then Synechococcus (0.05 to 2.34 g C d(-1)) cells. Depending on sponge abundance, the amount of POC that sponges consumed as a proportion of the total POC available was 0.2-12.1% for Bac, 0.4-21.3% for Prochlo, and 0.3-15.8% for Synecho. The flux of POC for the whole sponge assemblage, based on the consumption of prokaryotic picoplankton, ranged from 0.07-3.50 g C m(2) d(-1). This study is the first to estimate the contribution of a sponge assemblage (rather than focusing on individual sponge species) to POC flow from three groups of picoplankton in a temperate rocky reef through the feeding activity of sponges and demonstrates the importance of sponges to energy flow in rocky reef environments.

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