Background: The seamounts Ses Olives (SO), Ausias March (AM) and Emile Baudot (EB) at the Mallorca Channel (Balearic Islands, western Mediterranean), are poorly explored areas containing rich and singular sponge communities. Previous works have shown a large heterogeneity of habitats, including rhodolith beds, rocky, gravel and sandy bottoms and steeped slopes. This diversity of habitats provides a great
opportunity for improving the knowledge of the sponges from Mediterranean seamounts.
Methods: Sponges were collected during several surveys carried out by the Balearic Center of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography at the Mallorca Channel seamounts. Samples were obtained using a beam-trawl, rock dredge and remote operated vehicle. Additional samples were obtained from fishing grounds of the Balearic Islands continental shelf, using the sampling device GOC-73. Sponges were identified through the analysis of morphological and molecular characters.
Results: A total of 60 specimens were analyzed, from which we identified a total of 19 species. Three species and one genus are new to science: Foraminospongia balearica gen. nov. sp. nov., Foraminospongia minuta gen. nov. sp. nov. and Paratimea massutii sp. nov. Heteroxya cf. beauforti represents the first record of the genus Heteroxya in the Mediterranean Sea. Additionally, this is the second report of Axinella spatula and Haliclona (Soestella) fimbriata since their description.
Moreover, the species Petrosia (Petrosia) raphida, Calyx cf. tufa and Lanuginella pupa are reported for the first time in the Mediterranean Sea. Petrosia (Strongylophora) vansoesti is reported here for the first time in the western Mediterranean Sea. Haliclona (S.) fimbriata is reported here for the first time in the north-western Mediterranean Sea. Hemiasterella elongata is reported here for the second time in the Mediterranean Sea. The species Melonanchora emphysema, Rhabdobaris implicata, Polymastia polytylota, Dragmatella aberrans, Phakellia ventilabrum and Pseudotrachya hystrix are reported for first time off Balearic Islands. Following the Sponge Barcoding project goals, we have sequenced the Cytochrome Oxidase subunit I (COI) and the 28S ribosomal fragment (C1–D2 domains) for Foraminospongia balearica sp. nov., Foraminospongia minuta sp. nov., H. cf. beauforti and C. cf. tufa, and the COI for Paratimea massuti sp. nov. We also provide a phylogenetic analysis to discern the systematic location of Foraminospongia gen. nov., which, in accordance to skeletal complement, is placed in the Hymerhabdiidae family. A brief biogeographical discussion is provided for all these species, with emphasis on the sponge singularity of SO, AM and the EB seamounts and the implications for their future protection.