Niche overlap between a cold-water coral and an associated sponge for isotopically-enriched particulate food sources

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van Oevelen, Dick; Mueller, Christina E.; Lundälv, Tomas; van Duyl, Fleur C.; de Goeij, Jasper M.; Middelburg, Jack J. (2018). PLoS ONE.


The cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa is an ecosystem engineer that builds reef structures on the seafloor. The interaction of the reef topography with hydrodynamics is known to enhance the supply of suspended food sources to the reef communities. However, the reef framework is also a substrate for other organisms that may compete for the very same suspended food sources. Here, we used the passive suspension feeder Lophelia pertusa and the active suspension feeding sponge Hymedesmia coriacea as model organisms to study niche overlap using isotopically-enriched algae and bacteria as suspended food sources. The coral and the sponge were fed with a combination of 13C-enriched bacteria/15N-enriched algae or 15N-enriched bacteria/13C-enriched algae, which was subsequently traced into bulk tissue, coral skeleton and dissolved inorganic carbon (i.e. respiration). Both the coral and the sponge assimilated and respired the suspended bacteria and algae, indicating niche overlap between these species. The assimilation rates of C and N into bulk tissue of specimens incubated separately were not significantly different from assimilation rates during incubations with co-occurring corals and sponges. Hence, no evidence for exploitative resource competition was found, but this is likely due to the saturating experimental food concentration that was used. We do not rule out that exploitative competition occurs in nature during periods of low food concentrations. Food assimilation and respiration rates of the sponge were almost an order of magnitude higher than those of the cold-water coral. We hypothesize that the active suspension feeding mode of the sponge explains the observed differences in resource uptake as opposed to the passive suspension feeding mode of the cold-water coral. These feeding mode differences may set constraints on suitable habitats for cold-water corals and sponges in their natural habitats.


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