Scientia Marina, Vol 80, No 3 (2016)

Sponges as “living hotels” in Mediterranean marine caves

Vasilis Gerovasileiou
Institute of Marine Biology, Biotechnology and Aquaculture, Hellenic Centre for Marine Research - Department of Zoology, School of Biology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Chariton Charles Chintiroglou
Department of Zoology, School of Biology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Despoina Konstantinou
Department of Zoology, School of Biology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Eleni Voultsiadou
Department of Zoology, School of Biology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece


Although sponges constitute the dominant sessile organisms in marine caves, their functional role as ecosystem engineers has received little attention in this habitat type. In this study the associated macrofauna of the massive/tubular ecosystem-engineering sponges Agelas oroides and Aplysina aerophoba was studied across distinct ecological zones of two eastern Mediterranean caves. Our results revealed that the examined sponges supported a considerable associated macrofauna. A total of 86 associated taxa were found, including species reported for the first time as sponge symbionts and typical cave dwellers. Crustaceans predominated in terms of abundance but polychaetes showed the highest number of taxa. A clear differentiation was observed in the structure of the associated assemblage between the two sponges, attributed not only to the sponge species but also to differences in the surrounding environment. Density, diversity and the trophic structure of the sponge-associated macrofauna did not vary significantly along the horizontal axis of the surveyed caves. These findings suggest that sponges form a quite stable habitat, maintaining their functional role as ecosystem engineers across the studied marine caves and increasing habitat complexity in the impoverished inner dark cave sectors.


Porifera; sponges; marine caves; ecosystem engineers; symbiosis; macrofauna; feeding groups; Mediterranean Sea; Aegean Sea

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