Sponge diversity and community composition in bathyal cold water coral reefs (CWRs) were examined at 500-900 m depth on the southeastern slopes of Rockall Bank and the northwestern slope of Porcupine Bank, to the west of Ireland in 2004 and 2005 with boxcores. A total of 104 boxcore samples, supplemented with 10 trawl/dredge attempts, were analyzed for the presence and abundance of sponges, using microscopical examination of (sub)samples of collected coral branches, and semi-quantitative macroscopic examination. Approximate minimum size of identified and counted sponge individuals was 1 mm. Literature data were added to the Porcupine Bank results to compensate for a less intensive sampling program in that location. Species richness and abundance were determined at local (sample diversity, pooled-sample diversity, local reef diversity), between-reef (diversity of two reef areas at 15 km distance), and regional scales (diversity of three reef areas over a distance of 200 km). Abiotic and biotic parameters including depth, the presence and cover of live coral, dead coral and sand, local reef, and orientation towards the nearest reef mound summit, were included in a constrained ordination technique (RDA); a Monte Carlo forward selection procedure was used to obtain significant predictors of variation in composition. The results of this analysis were compared with unconstrained ordination (PCA) and cluster analysis. The presence of live coral, depth and the local reefs C1 and C3 proved to be significant predictors of variation in sponge composition. The PCA and cluster analysis confirmed these results. Sample species richness was consistently heterogeneous from zero species and individuals up to 57 species and 90 individuals per (boxcore) sample. Species richness of local reefs determined from pooled samples showed the three localities studied to have similar species richness, namely 105-122 species in each location. Species richness was highest in samples with relatively low live coral cover. As in the RDA, live coral presence and depth appeared to be responsible for most of the variation observed in the cluster results. Cluster analysis of Bray-Curtis dissimilarity values of the pooled samples of all three reef localities using presence / absence data of all available samples indicated that distance appeared to structure the composition of the sponge assemblages of the three reef mound areas, but much less so within and among local reefs. Bathyal reefs of the regions to the west of Ireland were found to have a combined sponge species richness of 191 species, exceeding the richness of individual reef mound areas by c. 38-45%. Sponge presence in CWRs is clearly structured and controlled by biotic and abiotic factors. In particular, live coral presence appears a significant predictor of CWR sponge composition and diversity.

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Contributions to Zoology

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van Soest, R., Cleary, D., de Kluijver, M. J., Lavaleye, M. S. S., Maier, C., & van Duy, F. C. (2007). Sponge diversity and community composition in Irish bathyal coral reefs. Contributions to Zoology, 76, 2, 121–142.