Sponges (phylum Porifera) are important members of almost all aquatic ecosystems, and are renowned for hosting often dense and diverse microbial communities. While the specificity of the sponge microbiota seems to be closely related to host phylogeny, the environmental factors that could shape differences within local sponge-specific communities remain less understood. On tropical coral reefs, sponge habitats can span from shallow areas to deeper, mesophotic sites. These habitats differ in terms of environmental factors such as light, temperature, and food availability, as well as anthropogenic impact. In order to study the host specificity and potential influence of varying habitats on the sponge microbiota within a local area, four tropical reef sponges, Rhabdastrella globostellata, Callyspongia sp., Rhaphoxya sp., and Acanthella cavernosa, were collected from exposed shallow reef slopes and a deep reef drop-off. Based on 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing profiles, beta diversity analyses revealed that each sponge species possessed a specific microbiota that was significantly different to those of the other species and exhibited attributes that are characteristic of high- and/or low-microbial-abundance sponges. These findings emphasize the influence of host identity on the associated microbiota. Dominant sponge- and seawater-associated bacterial phyla were Chloroflexi, Cyanobacteria, and Proteobacteria. Comparison of individual sponge taxa and seawater samples between shallow and deep reef sites revealed no significant variation in alpha diversity estimates, while differences in microbial beta diversity (variation in community composition) were significant for Callyspongia sp. sponges and seawater samples. Overall, the sponge-associated microbiota is significantly shaped by host identity across all samples, while the effect of habitat differentiation seems to be less predominant in tropical reef sponges.
Micronesia - Guam