Effect of disturbance on assemblages: an example using Porifera
Extensive sponge assemblages are found in a number of habitats at Lough Hyne Marine Nature Reserve. These habitats are unusual in experiencing a range of environmental conditions, even though they are only separated by small geographic distances (1-500 m), reducing the possibility of confounding effects between study sites (e.g., silica concentrations and temperature). Sponge assemblages were examined on ephemeral (rocks), stable (cliffs), and artificial (slate panels) hard substrata from high- and low-energy environments that were used to represent two measures of disturbance (flow rate and habitat stability). Sponge assemblages varied considerably between habitat types such that only 26% (25 species) of species reported were common to both rock and cliff habitats. Seven species (of a total of 96 species) were found in the least-developed assemblages (slate panels) and were common to all habitats. Sponge assemblages on rocks and panels varied little between high- and low-energy environments, whereas assemblages inhabiting cliffs varied considerably. Assemblage composition was visualized using Bray-Curtis similarity analysis and Multi-Dimensional Scaling, which enabled differences and similarities between sponge assemblages to be visualized. Cliffs from high- and low-energy sites had different assemblage compositions compared to large rocks, small rocks, and panels, all of which had similar assemblages irrespective of environmental conditions. Differences in assemblages were partially attributed to sponge morphology (shape), as certain morphologies (e.g., arborescent species) were excluded from 2-D rock habitats. Other mechanisms were also considered responsible for the sponge assemblages associated with different habitats.