Ecology of antarctic marine sponges: An overview

Academic Article


  • Sponges are important components of marine benthic communities of Antarctica. Numbers of species are high, within the lower range for tropical latitudes, similar to those in the Arctic, and comparable or higher than those of temperate marine environments. Many have circumpolar distributions and in some habitats hexactinellids dominate benthic biomass. Antarctic sponge assemblages contribute considerable structural heterogeneity for colonizing epibionts. They also represent a significant source of nutrients to prospective predators, including a suite of spongivorous sea stars whose selective foraging behaviors have important ramifications upon community structure. The highly seasonal plankton blooms that typify the Antarctic continental shelf are paradoxical when considering the planktivorous diets of sponges. Throughout much of the year Antarctic sponges must either exploit alternate sources of nutrition such as dissolved organic carbon or be physiologically adapted to withstand resource constraints. In contrast to predictions that global patterns of predation should select for an inverse correlation between latitude and chemical defenses in marine sponges, such defenses are not uncommon in Antarctic sponges. Some species sequester their defensive metabolites in the outermost layers where they are optimally effective against sea star predation. Secondary metabolites have also been shown to short-circuit molting in sponge-feeding amphipods and prevent fouling by diatoms. Coloration in Antarctic sponges may be the result of relict pigments originally selected for aposematism or UV screens yet conserved because of their defensive properties. This hypothesis is supported by the bioactive properties of pigments examined to date in a suite of common Antarctic sponges.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • McClintock JB; Amsler CD; Baker BJ; Van Soest RWM
  • Start Page

  • 359
  • End Page

  • 368
  • Volume

  • 45
  • Issue

  • 2