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Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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Diversity and Distributions





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Alpheid shrimp represent an abundant and diverse, but poorly characterized, component of the cryptic biodiversity of coral reefs worldwide. Sponge-inhabiting alpheids provide a promising model system for exploring patterns of cryptic reef biodiversity because their habitats (hosts) are discrete and qualitatively distinct units. We tabulated data from 14 years of collections at Carrie Bow Cay, Belize to quantify patterns of diversity, host specificity, and dominance among sponge-dwelling shrimp (Synalpheus), with special attention to eusocial species. From > 600 sampled sponges of 17 species, we recognized at least 36 Synalpheus shrimp species. Of these, 15 (42%) were new to science. Species accumulation curves suggest that we have sampled most of the Synalpheus diversity at Carrie Bow Cay. Diversity of sponge-dwelling Synalpheus was slightly higher in shallow water, probably because of greater habitat diversity, than in deep water. Host specificity was surprisingly high, with > 50% of all shrimp species found in only a single sponge species each, although some shrimp species used as many as six hosts. Cohabitation of individual sponges by multiple shrimp species was rarer than expected by chance, supporting previous distributional and behavioural evidence that competition for hosts is strong and moulds patterns of host association. The fauna of most well-sampled sponge species was dominated, both in numbers of individuals and in frequency of occurrence, by eusocial species. Eusocial shrimp species also inhabited a significantly greater number of sponge species than did non-social shrimp. Consequently, > 65% of shrimp in our quantitative samples belonged to the four eusocial species, and on a per-species basis, eusocial species were 17 times as abundant as non-social species. Our data suggest that the highly diverse sponge-dwelling shrimp assemblage of the Belize Barrier Reef is structured by competition, and that eusociality has allowed a small number of species to dominate the sponge resource.


DOI: 10.1111/j.1366-9516.2005.00213.x


Competition; coral reef; host range; Porifera; sociality; species accumulation curve; symbiosis

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.