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Staying well connected – Lithistid sponges on seamounts

  • Merrick Ekins (a1), Dirk Erpenbeck (a2), Gert Wörheide (a3) and John N. A. Hooper (a1) (a4)


Three species of lithistid sponges, Neoaulaxinia zingiberadix, Isabella mirabilis and Neoschrammeniella fulvodesmus were collected from deep seamounts off New Caledonia to address questions about their population structure, gene flow and the relative contribution of sexual and asexual reproductive strategies to their populations. The sponges were tested by sequencing the ITS (internal transcribed spacer) and CO1 regions of their genomes. These rare and presumably ancient sponges have a distribution restricted to seamounts in the south-western Pacific. Deep seamounts represent geographically separated islands. Although the sponges could be expected to have sexual reproduction restricted to near neighbours due to low sexual dispersal opportunities via larvae, this study found surprisingly high levels of gene flow between the seamounts. Amongst the specimens of N. zingiberadix taken from two seamounts there was no population structure; CO1 resulted in identical genotypes. For the population structure within N. fulvodesmus, as revealed by ITS, most of the variation was within each individual from the six seamounts on which it occurred and CO1 revealed no difference between individuals or seamounts. The third species I. mirabilis showed four genotypes based on CO1, which were distributed across all the seamounts. Indirect measures of different species showed a range of reproductive strategies from asexual to sexual, but with much higher connection between seamounts than previously thought. Individual seamounts did not show a separate population structure as one might expect from ‘islands’. The conclusion must be that these sponges have mechanisms to attain greater dispersal than previously thought.


Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to:M. Ekins, Queensland Museum, PO Box 3300, South Brisbane 4101, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia email:


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