Biology

Newly-discovered sponge is surprisingly abundant

Newly-discovered sponge is sur...
The previously unknown sponge, Desmacella hyalina
The previously unknown sponge, Desmacella hyalina
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The previously unknown sponge, Desmacella hyalina
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The previously unknown sponge, Desmacella hyalina

Although cold waters aren't known for their coral reefs, they do contain ecologically important "glass reefs" created by live sponges. Now, scientists have discovered a previously unknown species of sponge living on those reefs, in Canada.

Home to a variety of marine life, the delicate glass reefs are made up of hexactinellid sponges. These deep-dwelling animals have a skeleton consisting of what are known as siliceous spicules, which is a fancy way of saying small, pointy, silica structures.

In a recent study conducted by scientists from the University of Alberta, an underwater remote-operated vehicle (ROV) was used to examine and collect samples from such reefs, in the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound regions of coastal British Columbia.

A previously unknown non-hexactinellid sponge – which has been named Desmacella hyalina – was found growing on the surface of the reefs. Surprisingly, it isn't even all that rare, constituting almost 20 percent of the total sponge population at the sampling sites. Although its relationship with the glass sponges has yet to be determined, the researchers believe that it could have a major influence on the role and health of the reefs as a whole.

"Properly knowing the components of an environment and the linkages between them – here this new species Desmacella hyalina and the reef sponges it lives on – is a major step forward in understanding the ecosystem services and function of the sponge reefs," says Prof. Sally Leys. "This is the information we need for concrete management strategies."

A paper on the study, which was led by then-graduate student Lauren Law, has been published in the journal Marine Biodiversity.

Source: University of Alberta

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