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Persistence of glass sponge in face of climatic variability

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IMAGE: This is the glass sponge Vazella pourtalesi in Emerald Basin, Nova Scotia, Canada. view more 

Credit: Beazley et al., 2018

The glass sponge has persisted on the Scotian Shelf for decades, despite strong historical variability in water conditions and extremely limited protection by conservation efforts, according to a study published October 24 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Lindsay Beazley of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia, Canada, and colleagues. The authors suggest that the results may give insight into how this species will respond to future climate change.

Emerald Basin on the Scotian Shelf off Nova Scotia is home to a globally unique aggregation of the glass sponge Vazella pourtalesi. In 2009, Fisheries and Oceans Canada implemented two sponge conservation areas to protect against bottom fishing activities. To determine the degree to which the sponge grounds remain unprotected, Beazley and her colleagues modelled the presence probability and predicted range distribution of V. pourtalesi on the Scotian Shelf.

Although the two sponge conservation areas protect some of the more significant concentrations of V. pourtalesi, more than 99% of its predicted distribution remains unprotected. The V. pourtalesi sponge grounds are associated with a warmer and more saline water mass compared to the surrounding shelf. Reconstruction of historical bottom temperature and salinity in Emerald Basin revealed strong variability across decades. The researchers show that this species has persisted in the face of this climatic variability, and recommend future work to understand the impacts of climate change on this species and to develop appropriate measures for its continued conservation.

The authors add: "We show that the unique glass sponge Vazella pourtalesi off Nova Scotia, Canada is distributed in an area that experiences strong multi-decadal variability in temperature and salinity. The persistence of this species in the face of this climatic variability possibly indicates how it will response to future climate change."

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Keywords: Peer reviewed; Observational study; Animals

In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0205505

Citation: Beazley L, Wang Z, Kenchington E, Yashayaev I, Rapp HT, Xavier JR, et al. (2018) Predicted distribution of the glass sponge Vazella pourtalesi on the Scotian Shelf and its persistence in the face of climatic variability. PLoS ONE 13(10): e0205505. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205505

Funding: This research was funded through Fisheries and Oceans Canada's (DFO) Strategic Program for Ecosystem-Based Research and Advice (SPERA) project "Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Two Sponge Conservation Areas in the Maritimes Region: Identifying Patterns of Dispersal, Connectivity, and Recovery Potential of the Russian Hat Sponge Vazella pourtalesi" led by L.I.B. and the H2020 EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Project SponGES (Deep-sea Sponge Grounds Ecosystems of the North Atlantic: an integrated approach towards their preservation and sustainable exploitation) (Grant Agreement no. 679849). The funders supported the collection of data used in this manuscript. Oceans North provided support in the form of salaries for S.D. Fuller, but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of all authors are articulated in the 'author contributions' section.

Competing Interests: Our affiliation with Oceans North does not alter our adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

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