Sponge-Associated Amphipod Communities as Bioindicators for Pollution
Pollution negatively impacts organisms across all marine ecosystems. Coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to pollution due to their proximity to human settlements. Amphipods are commonly used as bioindicators to monitor pollution burdens, due to their high sensitivities and their ubiquity. Pollution can reduce amphipod abundance, species richness, evenness and diversity. Community structure, proportionality of adults to juveniles and sex ratios may also be affected. Sponges often harbour high densities of amphipods, offering food, refuge and nurseries to their symbionts. Sponge-associated amphipods differ in their level of specialization on their host. This study provides first insights into the usefulness of sponge-associated amphipod communities as bioindicators. For this, it hypothesized that amphipod densities, species diversity, community structure, sex ratio and age proportionality will differ according to pollution levels. To test this, sponges were collected from three sites with varying degrees of pollution in Wellington Harbour. The sponges were weighed, and their volume was measured. They were dissected and their amphipods were identified to species level, counted, measured (length) and their sex and life cycle stage (adult or juvenile) were recorded. From this data, amphipod densities, species richness, evenness and Shannon-Wiener diversity indices were calculated and compared among pollution levels. Community structure was also compared between sites and sponge species. Pollution level significantly affected species richness, evenness, diversity and community structure. The highest values for species richness, evenness and diversity were found in sponges from the least polluted. The lowest levels of these factors were found in sponges from the most polluted site. Sponges from the intermediate site generally harboured moderate richness, evenness and diversity compared to the other sites. Community composition was significantly affected by pollution, although effect sizes differed between sponge species. Higher pollution levels seemed to favour dominance of species that are better adapted to living in sponges. Generalists seemed to thrive in low to intermediate pollution levels. The majority of sex ratios measured had a female bias, which appeared to increase with increasing pollution although the difference was not statistically significant. The proportion of adults also showed a non-significant increase with pollution level. There was no significant difference in amphipod abundance per litre of sponge tissue between pollution levels, possibly because pollution levels may have been too low to cause a reduction in amphipod density. These results show that sponge-associated amphipod communities are useful as bioindicators, as amphipod diversity, richness and evenness were significantly reduced by pollution and the sponge association allows for these community-scale comparisons to be made within an easily measurable framework. Species evenness in particular provided an accurate indication of different pollution levels.