Patterns of Temporal and Spatial Variability of Sponge Assemblages
The primary goals of this thesis were to understand the spatial and temporal pattern of sponge assemblage variation over a variety of scales and investigate suitable monitoring methods for sponge assemblages. Sponges are an ecologically significant group in benthic marine communities, which are often ignored in current monitoring schemes. In chapter two the sponge biodiversity of New Zealand waters to 200m was examined using Taxonomic Distinctness measures initially to test if genera data could be used as a proxy for species level data in New Zealand waters. It was found that over 50% of the variation in genera biodiversity could be explained by location and depth around New Zealand. The study helped pinpoint where there were gaps in the New Zealand dataset, in particular for the West Coast of the South Island and also areas such as the Wellington South Coast, which had higher than expected values for Average and Variation Taxonomic distinctness measures, which as important areas where sponges should be monitored to make sure the high levels of biodiversity are protected. Taxonomic distinctness measures are useful for initially assessing how the biodiversity is distributed, especially when using a data set with uneven sampling effort, as it is robust to spatial and temporal bias in the majority of cases. However, there was an outlier to the genera data correlating well with the variation in species data in the case of a site dominated by Haliclona sp (Lyttelton Harbour). In chapters three and four the spatial and temporal variability of sponge assemblages of the Wellington South Coast were explored creating both a species list for the area and an understanding of how the sponge assemblage varies over time and space. There were significant differences in the sponges assemblages in similar habitat types over a scale of a few hundred metres. In addition, although all the sponge assemblages changed seasonally, the changes at each sampling site responded in a slightly different way most likely due to spatiotemporal variation in environmental conditions. A similar seasonal pattern was also observed in chapter five for sponge assemblages at Skomer Marine Reserve and this pattern was also clear when using morphological monitoring methods. This means that once a site has been mapped for biodiversity it is possible for some habitats to use morphological monitoring to identify if the sponge assemblage is changing significantly saving time and money. The results from Indonesia (chapter six) showed that although the sponge assemblages were changing significantly in the actual species present and their abundances, the proportion of diversity within each spatial level (quadrat, site and region) remained consistent when sampled at the same time each year throughout the five year study. In species rich assemblages there are a variety of life strategies that can respond differently to shifts in environmental conditions and contribute to ecological functioning in various ways. Various monitoring methods have been tested using sponge assemblages over various spatial and temporal scales in this thesis. Spatial, temporal and the interaction of spatial and temporal factors were all important for identifying significant assemblage differences at all of the sites. Further studies integrating the interaction of spatial and temporal factors into understanding monitoring data sets are vital to understand the patterns of assemblage variability and therefore incorporate into habitat management plans.