Voracious sponges save reef

Jan 13, 2009

Tropical oceans are known as the deserts of the sea. And yet this unlikely environment is the very place where the rich and fertile coral reef grows. Dutch researcher Jasper de Goeij investigated how caves in the coral reef ensure the reef's continued existence. Although sponges in these coral caves take up a lot of dissolved organic material, they scarcely grow. However, they do discard a lot of cells that in turn provide food for the organisms on the reef.

Caves in coral reefs are the largest and least well known part of the reef. De Goeij investigated coral caves near Curacao and Indonesia. Up until now it had been assumed that cave sponges could only eat by filtering the non-dissolved particles from the seawater. This research demonstrated, however, that the caves contain far more dissolved material than non-dissolved material.

The reef's guts

Cave sponges take up enormous quantities of dissolved organic material from seawater. The question is whether they merely take up the material or whether they also process it. De Goeij revealed that the sponges process forty percent of the material and take up sixty percent. This should lead to a doubling of the sponges' biomass every two to three days. However, cave sponges scarcely grow.

The coral caves are densely populated and so there is scarcely any space to grow. Instead of growing the cave sponges rapidly rejuvenate their filtration cells and discard their old cells. This short cell cycle is unique for multicellular organisms and to date was only known to occur in unicellular organisms. The production and breakdown process of the sponge cells mirrors that in the human intestinal tract.

Eating and being eaten

Coal reef maintains itself in a remarkable manner. The algae and corals on the reef produce dissolved organic material. Before this material flows into the open ocean sponges in the caves take it up. The sponges rapidly filter enormous quantities of water and convert dissolved material into particles. These particles are in turn consumed by the algae and corals on the reef. In this manner, the various inhabitants of the reef facilitate each other's survival.

Sponges produce many substances that could contribute to the development of new medicines, antibiotics and cosmetics. However, rearing sponges is far from easy. Unravelling how these sponges function could solve this problem and this research has contributed towards this.

Jasper de Goeij's research was funded with a grant from WOTRO Science for Global Development, one of NWO's scientific divisions. De Goeij carried out his work at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.

Source: Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

Explore further: Researchers uncover the oldest tea in Britain

Related Stories

Defusing bombs by color

19 minutes ago

This March, Cambodia held its first national-level science festival at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, attracting over 10,000 young students to the science booths over the course of three days. At one ...

Mars rover's ChemCam instrument gets sharper vision

19 minutes ago

NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover's "ChemCam" instrument just got a major capability fix, as Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists uploaded a software repair for the auto-focus system on the instrument.

How we discovered the three revolutions of American pop

8 minutes ago

Dr Matthias Mauch discusses his recent scientific analysis of the "fossil record" of the Billboard charts prompted widespread attention, particularly the findings about the three musical "revolutions" that shaped the musical la ...

Detecting and blocking leaky Android apps

22 minutes ago

Nine times out of ten, that Android app is connecting to multiple internet destinations without your knowledge, more than half of them require access to the sensitive, personal information on your mobile device in order to ...

Recommended for you

Researchers uncover the oldest tea in Britain

1 hour ago

Researchers have found what they believe to be the oldest tea in Britain. The dried green tea was acquired in China, around the year 1700, by ship's surgeon James Cuninghame, who subsequently gave it as a ...

First step towards global attack on potato blight

1 hour ago

European researchers and companies concerned with the potato disease phytophthora will work more closely with parties in other parts of the world. The first move was made during the biennial meeting of the ...

Barking characterizes dogs as voice characterizes people

2 hours ago

An international group of researchers has conducted a study on canine behavior showing that gender, age, context and individual recognition can be identified with a high percentage of success through statistical ...

How DNA is helping us fight back against pest invasions

2 hours ago

They are the original globe trekkers. From spiders bunking along with humanity's spread into south-eastern Asia, to sea squirts hopping on military craft returning after the Korean War, invasive species have enveloped the globe. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.