Data from Kahn et al. (Trophic ecology of glass sponge reefs in the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia)

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  • Sponges link the microbial loop with benthic communities by feeding on bacteria. Glass sponge reefs on the continental shelf of western Canada have extremely high grazing rates, consuming seven times more particulate carbon than can be supplied by vertical flux alone. Unlike many sponges, the reef building species Aphrocallistes vastus has no microbial symbionts and removes little dissolved organic carbon. To determine how reef sponges therefore get enough food to sustain such substantial grazing we measured stable carbon and nitrogen isotope signatures of water, sediment and sponge tissues. To ensure samples were temporally associated, we also studied the duration particles were retained in tissues in controlled feeding studies using microscopic beads and 13C-labeled bacteria. Although fecal pellets were expelled from sponges within 24 hours of feeding, intact bacteria were still found in tissues and sponge tissues retained elevated 13C levels for at least 14 days. These independent lines of evidence suggest that carbon in reef sponge tissues may reflect food consumed from days to weeks earlier. Stable isotope analysis suggests that heterotrophic bacteria ingested by the sponges comes from a confluence of trophic subsidies: from terrestrial and oceanic sources, and also potentially on sediment-borne bacteria resuspended by tidal currents.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International