The role of the sponge, Halichondria panicea, in a Kachemak Bay, Alaska, intertidal community was investigated through field and laboratory experiments. The relationship between H. panicea and co-occurring macroalgae was studied and results indicate that removing macroalgae had no effect on sponge abundance. A laboratory feeding trial investigating H. panicea and its primary predator Archidoris montereyensis showed that nudibranchs consuming symbiotic sponge had higher feeding and egg production rates than individuals eating aposymbiotic sponge. In a simulated predation event, initial sponge growth rates into experimental feeding scars were high, indicating a response mechanism to tissue damage. A naturally occurring high nudibranch recruitment into a sponge population resulted in the local decline and extinction of both sponge and predator. Genetic studies revealed that at least two sponge species likely comprise the intertidal populations investigated, Halichondria panicea and H. bowerbanki. The reproductive cycle of H. panicea at exposed, hard-substrate habitats, and H. bowerbanki at sheltered, soft-sediment sites, exhibited seasonal peaks in oocyte production and maturation. H. panicea produced embryos 3--4 months earlier than H. bowerbanki. Six genomic DNA microsatellite loci were isolated and utilized in the characterization of two Halichondria panicea populations. The two populations were differentiated from one another with no significant inbreeding or bottleneck effect detected. All individuals were genetically unique, indicating little or no cloning. Sexual reproduction appears to be the dominant mode of reproduction maintaining the populations. DNA sequence analyses suggest that at least two species are likely present in Kachemak Bay. Distributions of ITS and CO1 haplotypes corresponded to habitat type. Analyses of the data grouped Alaska haplotypes separately from European samples of Halichondria panicea and H. bowerbanki , suggesting separate species may occur in Alaska. A re-examination of sponge systematics in southcentral Alaska is needed.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2002
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