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Marine sponges host diverse communities of microbial symbionts that expand the metabolic capabilities of their host, but the abundance and structure of these communities is highly variable across sponge species. Specificity in these interactions may fuel host niche partitioning on crowded coral reefs by allowing individual sponge species to exploit unique sources of carbon and nitrogen, but this hypothesis is yet to be tested. Given the presence of high sponge biomass and the coexistence of diverse sponge species, the Caribbean Sea provides a unique system in which to investigate this hypothesis. To test for ecological divergence among sympatric Caribbean sponges and investigate whether these trends are mediated by microbial symbionts, we measured stable isotope (δC and δN) ratios and characterized the microbial community structure of sponge species at sites within four regions spanning a 1700 km latitudinal gradient. There was a low (median of 8.2 %) overlap in the isotopic niches of sympatric species; in addition, host identity accounted for over 75% of the dissimilarity in both δC and δN values and microbiome community structure among individual samples within a site. There was also a strong phylogenetic signal in both δN values and microbial community diversity across host phylogeny, as well as a correlation between microbial community structure and variation in δC and δN values across samples. Together, this evidence supports a hypothesis of strong evolutionary selection for ecological divergence across sponge lineages and suggests that this divergence is at least partially mediated by associations with microbial symbionts.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: The ISME journal
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Ongoing collection, analysis, and interpretation of ecological data that is used to assess changes in the components, processes, and overall condition and functioning of an ECOSYSTEM.
Ecological and environmental entities, characteristics, properties, relationships and processes.
A group Caribbean islands including Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba.
DNA isolated from fossils or other ancient specimens.
Geographical sites known to be extant in a remote period in the history of civilization, familiar as the names of ancient countries and empires.