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Sponges facilitate primary producers in a Bahamas seagrass system

Cite this dataset

Archer, Stephanie; English, Philina; Campanino, Finella; Layman, Craig (2023). Sponges facilitate primary producers in a Bahamas seagrass system [Dataset]. Dryad.


Seagrass beds are important coastal ecosystems worldwide that are shaped by facilitative interactions. Recent theoretical work has emphasized the potential for facilitative interactions involving foundation species to be destabilized in the face of anthropogenic change. Consequently, it is important to identify which taxa facilitate seagrasses. In other ecosystems, sponges contribute to the maintenance of diverse and productive systems through their facilitation of foundation species (e.g., mangroves) and the retention and recycling of energy and nutrients. Sponges are common in tropical and subtropical seagrass beds, yet we know little about how their presence impacts these communities. Here, we examine the impact of the sponge Ircinia felix on primary producers in a Thalassia testudinum dominated seagrass bed using a long-term field experiment in The Bahamas. We transplanted live sponges into the center of 5 m x 5 m plots and monitored the response of seagrasses and macroalgae. Sponge presence increased seagrass nutrient content and growth, as well as the abundance of macroalgae and non-dominant seagrass species (Syringodium filiforme and Halodule wrightii). These changes were not seen in the control (unmanipulated) or structure (where we placed a polypropylene sponge replica) plots. We conclude that I. felix facilitates seagrass bed primary producers in oligotrophic systems, likely due to nutrients supplied by the sponge. Our study shows that sponges can have a positive influence on seagrass bed foundation species. Further work is needed to understand how this facilitation impacts the stability of seagrass beds in areas where human activities have increased ambient nutrient levels.

README: Sponges facilitate primary producers in a Bahamas seagrass system

This study explored the effects of the marine sponge, Ircinia felix, on seagrass growth, nutrient contents, and density as well as macroalgal abundance through a 1-year field experiment performed in The Bahamas.

Description of the data and file structure

All datasheets in this data set have the following variables:
treatment: Experimental treatment for the plot. Possible values are: blank (corresponds to control), fake (corresponds to structure), and sponge (corresponds to live sponge).
plot: Individual plot identifier
dist: The distance from the center of the plot.
sampling:plots were sampled 5 times; possible values are 1 (June 2013 - before the experiment began), 2 (July 2013 - 1 month into the experiment), 3 (November 2013 - 5 months into the experiment), 4 (July 2014; 12 months into the experiment), and 5 (November 2014 - 17 months into the experiment)
All other specific variable names are defined on the MetaData tab associated with each file.
Code associated with this data set can be found here:




National Science Foundation, Award: OCE 1405198