First documentation of encrusting specimen of Cliona delitrix on Curaçao: a cause for concern?
© The Author(s) 2017
Received: 23 December 2016
Accepted: 7 March 2017
Published: 22 March 2017
The coral excavating sponge Cliona delitrix is one of the most aggressive and conspicuous excavating sponges on Caribbean reefs. While C. delitrix is very prominent displaying its typical encrusting growth form (β-stage) on the Caribbean island of Bonaire, it is rather elusive and only exhibits a papillated habitus (α-stage) on the neighboring island of Curaçao. Here I document the first two encrusting specimen of C. delitrix on Curaçao and discuss potential explanations for island-specific differences in its habitus and occurrence. An increase of encrusting specimen could have profound consequences for Curaçaoan reefs and should thus be monitored closely.
This study reports the first documentation of encrusting specimen of C. delitrix from Curaçao and discusses potential explanations for island-specific differences in its habitus and occurrence.
Material and methods
Two encrusting specimen of C. delitrix were photographed during a dive on November 3, 2016 in front of the Sea Aquarium Park on Curaçao (12° 05’ N, 68° 53’ W). The site is characterized by a diverse coral community with >30% live coral cover, high structural complexity, and a steep fore reef slope (>50°) (Van Duyl 1985). The coral community at the drop-off (approx. 8 m depth) is dominated by Orbicella spp.
Cliona delitrix has been reported to occur on Curaçao (Bruckner and Bruckner 2006; Chaves-Fonnegra et al. 2015; Van Soest 1981), yet large encrusting specimen have not been recorded so far and were not encountered in the coral reef monitoring program and/or other research activities of the Carmabi Research Station (pers. comm. M. Vermeij). While it cannot be excluded that more C. delitrix displaying the β-stage exist or existed on Curaçaoan reefs, it is safe to say that this habitus is rare. This raises the question why encrusting C. delitrix are not as abundant as on Bonaire, where such specimen are commonly encountered and densities of 0.03 individuals m−2 have been documented (Mueller et al. 2014)? Possible explanations could include (1) differences in environmental conditions between the two islands and/or (2) genetic differences between the local populations of C. delitrix. However, environmental conditions including geomorphology and community structure are very similar on both islands (Chollett et al. 2012; Sandin et al. 2008; Van Duyl 1985). Given the suggested positive effect of anthropogenic disturbances (e.g. organic pollution) on the abundance of C. delitrix (Chaves-Fonnegra et al. 2007; Rose and Risk 1985; Ward-Paige et al. 2005), a more than five times higher human population density (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek 2016; Central Bureau of Statistics Curaçao 2016), more industrial development, and a less restrictive marine resource management policy would rather suggest more favorable conditions on Curaçao than on Bonaire. Slightly higher dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and bacterial concentrations (Mueller et al. 2014) further suggest that food limitation is not a likely cause for the lower prevalence of C. delitrix on Curaçaoan reefs. Moreover, a planktonic larval period between 1 and 10 days (Mariani et al. 2006; Warburton 1958) in combination with the strong Caribbean Currents have been proposed to enable gene flow between populations of Cliona delitrix of up to 500 km across the Southern Caribbean (Chaves-Fonnegra et al. 2015). It is therefore highly likely that the Caribbean Currents flowing from Bonaire to Curaçao with up to 70 cm s−2 (Fratantoni 2001) (Fig. 2), should allow for a good connectivity between C. delitrix populations of both islands (Chaves-Fonnegra et al. 2015), as reported for local coral populations (e.g. Baums et al. 2005; Baums et al. 2006). Thus, as larvae of encrusting specimen of C. delitrix from Bonaire can be expected to seed Curaçaoan reefs, genetic differences are unlikely to be the reason for the lack of specimen displaying the β-stage on Curaçao.
In addition, C. delitrix is reported to spread particularly in the aftermath of catastrophic episodical disturbances, such as hurricanes and bleaching events, where recently deceased coral are rapidly colonized (Chaves-Fonnegra et al. 2015; Chaves-Fonnegra and Zea 2011). In general, Curaçao has not been as strongly affected by bleaching events as other places in the Caribbean. However, during the 2010 bleaching event 12–30% of all coral colonies were affected and on average 10% of those subsequently died (Vermeij 2012). Despite this substantial opening of suitable substrate, no encrusting specimen of C. delitrix were recorded until now. This raises the question if the here reported occurrence constitutes an isolated event or marks the onset of an ongoing trend? Given thefierce competitiveness of Cliona delitrix, its capability to kill live coral, as well as its high excavation rate, this could potentially have profound consequences for Curaçaoan benthic communities and their calcium carbonate budgets and should therefore be monitored closely.
I thank the staff of Carmabi for their logistic support. Fieldwork was performed under the research permit (#2012/48584) issued by the Curaçaoan Ministry of Health, Environment and Nature (GMN) to the CARMABI Foundation.
The author declares that there was no funding received for this study.
Availability of data and materials
All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article.
BM conceived and performed the experiment, analyzed the data, and wrote the manuscript.
The author declares that he has no competing interests.
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