Scientia Marina, Vol 74, No 3 (2010)

Phenotypic plasticity in the Caribbean sponge Callyspongia vaginalis (Porifera: Haplosclerida)

Susanna López-Legentil
Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina - Department of Animal Biology (Invertebrates), Faculty of Biology, University of Barcelona , Spain

Patrick M. Erwin
Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina , United States

Timothy P. Henkel
Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina , United States

Tse-Lynn Loh
Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina , United States

Joseph R. Pawlik
Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina , United States


Sponge morphological plasticity has been a long-standing source of taxonomic difficulty. In the Caribbean, several morphotypes of the sponge Callyspongia vaginalis have been observed. To determine the taxonomic status of three of these morphotypes and their relationship with the congeneric species C. plicifera and C. fallax, we compared the spicule composition, spongin fiber skeleton and sequenced fragments of the mitochondrial genes 16S and COI and nuclear genes 28S and 18S ribosomal RNA. Phylogenetic analyses with ribosomal markers 18S and 28S rRNA confirmed the position of our sequences within the Callyspongiidae. None of the genetic markers provided evidence for consistent differentiation among the three morphotypes of C. vaginalis and C. fallax, and only C. plicifera stood as a distinct species. The 16S mtDNA gene was the most variable molecular marker for this group, presenting a nucleotide variability (π = 0.024) higher than that reported for COI. Unlike recent studies for other sponge genera, our results indicate that species in the genus Callyspongia maintain a high degree of phenotypic plasticity, and that morphological characteristics may not reflect reproductive boundaries in C. vaginalis.


sponge; spicule; COI mtDNA; 16S mtDNA; 18S rRNA; 28S rRNA; morphotypes; Callyspongia; phenotype

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