It’s no secret that sponges have a tendency to be over looked in the marine field, despite the crucial role they play in maintaining a healthy reef system. However, Magdalena Lukowiak from the Polish Academy of Sciences Institute of Paleobiology may have a new method to bring sponges to the forefront of conversation.
It’s called Spicular Analysis, a method which Lukowiak presented Monday at ICRS 2016. With spicular analysis, surficial sediment samples are taken, then treated with hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid, making rare spicule morphotypes (structural elements that provide support and deter predators in most sponges) easier to distinguish and find. Lukowiak’s original goal was to analyze how accurately spicular analysis reflects the living sponge community. Using spicular analysis in the Bocos del Toro region in Panama, Lukowiak not only uncovered the spicules of known sponges, she also discovered the spicules of four sponges that had previously been unknown to live in the area. The four discovered spicule types, which are to be added to the Bocos del Toro sponge list, have been identified as belonging to, Samus anonymous (Gray), Cliona mucronate (Sollas), Alectona wallichii, and Triptolemma endolithicum van Soest. Before this study, the last two species listed were previously only known to be living in the Indian Ocean, and South African and Japanese waters.
This could become a breakthrough method in identifying sponges formerly unnoticed in areas worldwide. These species can tend to be overlooked due to their excavating nature, leaving many sponge inventory lists incomplete. “In most cases, using spicular analysis you can find some species new to the area. It is very promising.” said Lukowiak. She hopes to discover many more sponges through spicular analysis, and has begun taking samples in the Caribbean as well. She has already discovered the presence of other undocumented sponge species that she hopes to add to the Caribbean sponge list.
Sponges are a key component in maintaining a thriving reef. Sponges recycle nutrients in the water and according to the Coral Science Organization, their diet of dissolved organic carbon may actually help lower the waters nitrogen levels. This process keeps the area clean while also turning the nitrogen into food sources.
With one of the ICRS 2016 themes being “bridging science to policy”, Lukowiak hopes to accomplish this goal by bringing awareness to new species and educating the community about these methods of discovering new sponges in the area.