Sponge biodiversity and ecology of the Van Diemen Rise and eastern Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, northern Australia

Australia is increasingly recognised as a global hotspot for sponge biodiversity, but there is a
knowledge gap about sponge communities in northern Australia, including those in Commonwealth Marine
Reserves. We aim to quantify sponge biodiversity of the eastern Joseph Bonaparte Gulf and adjacent Van
Diemen Rise (VDR) and to examine spatial and environmental patterns in community structure.

Sponges were collected with a benthic sled from 65 sites encompassing five geomorphic features (bank,
terrace, ridge, plain, and valley), study area (as a proxy for distance offshore) and three environmental variables (depth, substrate hardness, and slope).

A total of 283 species were collected, representing four classes, 53 families and at least 117 genera. Sponge richness and biomass were related to those of other taxa. Sponge diversity was generally highest further offshore and on raised geomorphic features, particularly banks. Sponge assemblages on the same bank were more similar than those from different banks, although full interpretation of patterns is limited by the relatively low sampling effort.

The current study will help facilitate integrated marine management by providing a baseline species inventory, supporting the VDR’s carbonate banks as a key ecological feature, and highlighting the importance of sponges as habitat providers and potential biological surrogates for monitoring.

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