Wulff, J. (2012). Ecological interactions and the distribution, abundance, and diversity of sponges. In Advances in Marine Biology (Vol. 61, pp. 273–344). Academic Press.
Although abiotic factors may be important first-order filters dictating which sponge species can thrive at a particular site, ecological interactions can play substantial roles influencing distribution and abundance, and thus diversity. Ecological interactions can modify the influences of abiotic factors both by further constraining distribution and abundance due to competitive or predatory interactions and by expanding habitat distribution or abundance due to beneficial interactions that ameliorate otherwise limiting circumstances. It is likely that the importance of ecological interactions has been greatly underestimated because they tend to only be revealed by experiments and time-series observations in the field.
Experiments have revealed opportunistic predation to be a primary enforcer of sponge distribution boundaries that coincide with habitat boundaries in several systems. Within habitats, by contrast, dramatic effects of predators on sponge populations seem to occur primarily in cases of unusually high recruitment rates or unusually low mortality rates for the predators, which are often specialists on the sponge species affected. Competitive interactions have been demonstrated to diminish populations or exclude sponge species from a habitat in only a few cases. Cases in which competitive interactions have appeared obvious have often turned out to be neutral or even beneficial interactions when observed over time. Especially striking in this regard are sponge–sponge interactions in dense sponge-dominated communities, which may promote the continued coexistence of all participating species. Mutualistic symbioses of sponges with other animals, plants, or macroalgae have been demonstrated to increase abundance, habitat distribution, and diversity of all participants. Symbiotic microbes can enhance sponge distribution and abundance but also render their hosts more vulnerable to environmental changes. And while photosynthetic symbionts can boost growth and excavation rates for some sponge hosts, in other cases sponge growth proceeds as well or even better in diminished light.
Metrics chosen for evaluating sponge abundance make a substantial difference in interpretation of data comparing between different sites, or over time at the same site. In most cases, evaluating abundance by volume or biomass allows more ecologically meaningful interpretation of influences on distribution and abundance than does evaluating abundance by numbers of individuals or area covered. Accurate identification of species, and understanding how they are related within higher taxa, is essential. Studies in every habitat have illustrated the great power of experimental manipulations, and of time-series observations of sponge individuals, for understanding the processes underlying observed patterns; in many cases, these processes have been revealed to be ecological interactions.