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  1. Abstract

    Sponges are increasingly recognized as an ecologically important taxon on coral reefs, representing significant biomass and biodiversity where sponges have replaced scleractinian corals. Most sponge species can be divided into two symbiotic states based on symbiont community structure and abundance (i.e., the microbiome), and are characterized as high microbial abundance (HMA) or low microbial abundance (LMA) sponges. Across the Caribbean, sponge species of the HMA or LMA symbiotic states differ in metabolic capacity, as well as their trophic ecology. A metagenetic analysis of symbiont 16 S rRNA and metagenomes showed that HMA sponge microbiomes are more functionally diverse than LMA microbiomes, offer greater metabolic functional capacity and redundancy, and encode for the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites. Stable isotope analyses showed that HMA and LMA sponges primarily consume dissolved organic matter (DOM) derived from external autotrophic sources, or live particulate organic matter (POM) in the form of bacterioplankton, respectively, resulting in a low degree of resource competition between these symbiont states. As many coral reefs have undergone phase shifts from coral- to macroalgal-dominated reefs, the role of DOM, and the potential for future declines in POM due to decreased picoplankton productivity, may result in an increased abundance of chemically defended HMA sponges on tropical coral reefs.

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  2. Abstract

    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.tubulatadepends largely on heterotrophy across shallow to mesophotic depths and has been shown to utilize detritus on shallow reefs. However, detritus production byA.tubulataon 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.

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  3. Abstract

    While the effects of irradiance on coral productivity are well known, corals along a shallow to mesophotic depth gradient (10–100 m) experience incident irradiances determined by the optical properties of the water column, coral morphology, and reef topography.

    Modeling of productivity (i.e., carbon fixation) using empirical data shows that hemispherical colonies photosynthetically fix significantly greater amounts of carbon across all depths, and throughout the day, compared with plating and branching morphologies. In addition, topography (i.e., substrate angle) further influences the rate of productivity of corals but does not change the hierarchy of coral morphologies relative to productivity.

    The differences in primary productivity for different coral morphologies are not, however, entirely consistent with the known ecological distributions of these coral morphotypes in the mesophotic zone as plating corals often become the dominant morphotype with increasing depth.

    Other colony‐specific features such as skeletal scattering of light, Symbiodiniaceae species, package effect, or tissue thickness contribute to the variability in the ecological distributions of morphotypes over the depth gradient and are captured in the metric known as the minimum quantum requirements.

    Coral morphology is a strong proximate cause for the observed differences in productivity, with secondary effects of reef topography on incident irradiances, and subsequently the community structure of mesophotic corals.

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  4. Mesophotic coral reefs, currently defined as deep reefs between 30 and 150 m, are linked physically and biologically to their shallow water counterparts, have the potential to be refuges for shallow coral reef taxa such as coral and sponges, and might be a source of larvae that could contribute to the resiliency of shallow water reefs. Mesophotic coral reefs are found worldwide, but most are undescribed and understudied. Here, we review our current knowledge of mesophotic coral reefs and their functional ecology as it relates to their geomorphology, changes in the abiotic environment along depth gradients, trophic ecology, their reproduction, and their connectivity to shallow depths. Understanding the ecology of mesophotic coral reefs, and the connectivity between them and their shallow water counterparts, is now a primary focus for many reef studies as the worldwide degradation of shallow coral reefs, and the ecosystem services they provide, continues unabated. 
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  5. Abstract

    Sponges are a crucial component of Caribbean coral reef ecosystem structure and function. In the Caribbean, many sponges show a predictable increase in percent cover or abundance as depth increases from shallow (< 30 m) to mesophotic (30–150 m) depths. Given that sponge abundances are predicted to increase in the Caribbean as coral cover declines, understanding ecological factors that control their distribution is critical. Here we assess if sponge cover increases as depth increases into the mesophotic zone for three common Caribbean reef sponges,Xestospongia muta,Agelas tubulata, andPlakortis angulospiculatus, and use stable isotope analyses to determine whether shifts in trophic resource utilization along a shallow to mesophotic gradient occurred. Ecological surveys show that all target sponges significantly increase in percent cover as depth increases. Using bulk stable isotope analysis, we show that as depth increases there are increases in the δ13C and δ15N values, reflecting that all sponges consumed more heterotrophic picoplankton, with low C:N ratios in the mesophotic zone. However, compound‐specific isotope analysis of amino acids (CSIA‐AA) shows that there are species‐specific increases in δ13CAAand δ15NAAvalues.Xestospongia mutaandP. angulospiculatusshowed a reduced reliance on photoautotrophic resources as depth increased, whileA. tubulataappears to rely on heterotrophy at all depths. The δ13CAAand δ15NAAvalues of these sponges also reflect species‐specific patterns of host utilization of both POM and dissolved organic matter (DOM), its subsequent re‐synthesis, and translocation, by their microbiomes.

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