Temperate reefs, built by multilayers of encrusting algae accumulated during hundreds to thousands of years, represent one of the most important habitats of the Mediterranean Sea. These bioconstructions are known as “coralligenous” and their spatial complexity allows the formation of heterogeneous microhabitats offering opportunities for a large number of small cryptic species hardly ever considered. Although sponges are the dominant animal taxon in the coralligenous rims with both insinuating and perforating species, this group is until now poorly known. Aim of this work is to develop a reference baseline about the taxonomic knowledge of sponges and, considering their high level of phenotypic plasticity, evaluate the importance of coralligenous accretions as a pocket for biodiversity conservation. Collecting samples in four sites along the coast of the Ligurian Sea, we recorded 133 sponge taxa (115 of them identified at species level and 18 at genus level). One species, Eurypon gracilis is new for science; three species, Paratimea oxeata, Clathria (Microciona) haplotoxa and Eurypon denisae are new records for the Italian sponge fauna, eleven species are new findings for the Ligurian Sea. Moreover, seventeen species have not been recorded before from the coralligenous community. The obtained data, together with an extensive review of the existing literature, increase to 273 the number of sponge species associated with the coralligenous concretions and confirm that this habitat is an extraordinary reservoir of biodiversity still largely unexplored, not only taxonomically, but also as to peculiar adaptations and life histories.
Italy - Ligurian Sea
SCUBA (open-circuit or unspecified)