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Ammonium excretion by a symbiotic sponge supplies the nitrogen requirements of its rhodophyte partner

Davy, S.K., Trautman, D.A., Borowitzka, M.A. and Hinde, R. (2002) Ammonium excretion by a symbiotic sponge supplies the nitrogen requirements of its rhodophyte partner. Journal of Experimental Biology, 205 (22). pp. 3505-3511.

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Symbioses between sponges and algae are abundant in the nutrient-poor waters of tropical reefs, yet very little is known of the nutritional interactions that may promote this abundance. We measured nitrogen flux between the sponge Haliclona cymiformis and its symbiotic partner, the rhodophyte Ceratodictyon spongiosum, and assessed the potential importance of this flux to the symbiosis. While the association can take up dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) as ammonium and nitrate from the surrounding sea water, enrichment of the water with nitrate did not affect its rates of photosynthesis and respiration. Much of the DIN normally assimilated by the alga is waste ammonium excreted by the sponge. A nitrogen budget for the symbiosis shows that the nitrogen required for algal growth can potentially be provided by sponge catabolism alone, but that only a small amount of nitrogen is available for translocation back to the sponge in organic compounds. The stable isotope composition (δ15N) was consistent with our interpretation of the sponge supplying excretory DIN to its algal partner, while the results also suggested that this DIN limits nitrogen deficiency in the alga. If our observations are typical of sponge-alga symbioses, then the supply of excretory nitrogen could be a major reason why so many algae form symbioses with sponges on coral reefs.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Publisher: Company of Biologists
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