Lesser et al. 2023

scientific article | Limnol Oceanogr

Production of phytodetritus by a coral reef sponge increases from shallow to mesophotic depths

Lesser MP, Macartney KJ, Slattery M


On Caribbean coral reefs, sponges are important members of the benthic community and have an important role in consuming particulate organic matter (POM) and dissolved organic matter (DOM), with the subsequent production of detritus that is then shunted into a process now referred to as the “sponge-loop.” An emergent species of sponge commonly found on Caribbean coral reefs, Agelas tubulata, increases in size and growth rate from shallow (< 30 m) to mesophotic depths (30–150 m) on Grand Cayman Island. A. tubulata depends largely on heterotrophy across shallow to mesophotic depths and has been shown to utilize detritus on shallow reefs. However, detritus production by A. tubulata on shallow and mesophotic coral reefs has not been previously reported. Here we show, using flow cytometry, that sponge detritus includes a previously unquantified component, phytodetritus. Sponge phytodetritus production was shown experimentally to be greater in sponges from mesophotic depths compared to sponges from shallow coral reefs. Additionally, the size range of this phytodetritus corresponds to the size range of autotrophic picoplankton, primarily prochlorophytes, known to be an important food source for filter-feeding sponges. Given the known lability of phytodetritus, compared to other more recalcitrant components of the detrital pool, its role in the food web of mesophotic communities combined with the increased availability of live POM, may be an underappreciated component of mesophotic community carbon and nitrogen flow.

Depth range
22- 61 m

Mesophotic “mentions”
25 x (total of 4763 words)

* Presents original data
* Focused on 'mesophotic' depth range
* Focused on 'mesophotic coral ecosystem'


Porifera (Sponges)

Cayman Islands


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