Gerovasileiou, V.; Voultsiadou, E. (2016). Sponge diversity gradients in marine caves of the eastern Mediterranean. In: Schönberg C.H.L., Fromont J., Hooper J.N.A., Sorokin S., Zhang W. & de Voogd N (eds) New Frontiers in Sponge Science. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 96: 407-416.
Although sponges constitute the dominant animal group in marine caves globally, few studies have investigated quantitatively their diversity patterns in this habitat. Regarding Mediterranean marine caves, data describing the structure and diversity gradients of sponge assemblages are available for the north-western basin, while information for the eastern Mediterranean is almost inexistent. In this study, the sponge assemblages in two Aegean marine caves (eastern Mediterranean Sea) with different topography were examined using a non-destructive method. In each cave, three quadrats (25 × 25 cm) were photographed at 5 m intervals, along three transects: one along the ceiling and two along the opposite walls. Per cent coverage for each sponge species was calculated using advanced image processing software. Our analyses revealed a rich sponge assemblage, which consisted of 50 species assigned to eight growth forms. Resemblance analysis for the surveyed caves revealed two major groups of samples corresponding to the shadowy outer and the darker internal cave sectors. However, differences in species composition as well as divergent spatial patterns of species richness, Shannon– Wiener diversity and morphological diversity were found not only between the caves but also between different transects within each cave. Sponge morphological diversity presented significant positive correlation with species richness and Shannon–Wiener diversity in both caves, suggesting that it could possibly be used as a surrogate measure for describing sponge diversity gradients in Mediterranean caves. Cave topography was found to have a significant effect on the observed diversity patterns and assemblage structure, highlighting the high level of individuality in these unique habitats.