Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

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The ISME Journal



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Marine sponges host diverse communities of microbial symbionts that expand the metabolic capabilities of their host, but the abundance and structure of these communities is highly variable across sponge species. Specificity in these interactions may fuel host niche partitioning on crowded coral reefs by allowing individual sponge species to exploit unique sources of carbon and nitrogen, but this hypothesis is yet to be tested. Given the presence of high sponge biomass and the coexistence of diverse sponge species, the Caribbean Sea provides a unique system in which to investigate this hypothesis. To test for ecological divergence among sympatric Caribbean sponges and investigate whether these trends are mediated by microbial symbionts, we measured stable isotope (δ13C and δ15N) ratios and characterized the microbial community structure of sponge species at sites within four regions spanning a 1700 km latitudinal gradient. There was a low (median of 8.2 %) overlap in the isotopic niches of sympatric species; in addition, host identity accounted for over 75% of the dissimilarity in both δ13C and δ15N values and microbiome community structure among individual samples within a site. There was also a strong phylogenetic signal in both δ15N values and microbial community diversity across host phylogeny, as well as a correlation between microbial community structure and variation in δ13C and δ15N values across samples. Together, this evidence supports a hypothesis of strong evolutionary selection for ecological divergence across sponge lineages and suggests that this divergence is at least partially mediated by associations with microbial symbionts.


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NSF grant #: 1622398

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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