Joseph Pawlik
Graduate students

Information for undergrads and prospective grad students

Marine chemical ecology

Giant barrel sponge Xestospongia muta

Marine invertebrate larval biology

Photographic guide to sponges of the Caribbean

BIO 318: Invertebrate Zoology

BIO 501: Science as a Profession

Photo Gallery

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Monitoring Populations of Xestospongia muta

In 1997, we began a pilot study monitoring populations of X. muta on the coral reefs off Key Largo, FL.  Three years later, with the added use of the NURC-UNCW Aquarius habitat, we had a total of 4 monitoring sites: 2 at 15 m depth on Pickles Reef and Conch Reef, and two deeper sites on Conch Reef, at 20 m and 30 m.  In Oct. 2006 using Tri-Mix Technical Diving, we added a deep monitoring site at 50 m.

Each site consists of three 16 m radial transects, within which each individual X. muta is uniquely identified and monitored over time (right).  Sites are visited twice a year, with data collected on recruitment, mortality, growth, bleaching and disease.  In addition, each sponge is photographed, creating a photo library of over 5,000 images.  As of May 2005, 617 sponges have been monitored and photographed. 










Recruitment & Mortality

After several years of study, we are beginning to see patterns of recruitment and mortality.  Overall, total number of sponges has increased in all sites since 1999.  New, small recruits (right) are regularly found in low numbers.  A larger recruitment event was observed in Fall 1999, just one year after a mass mortality event linked to Hurricane Georges.  In total, we have observed 20% mortality in X. muta, over half of which is mortality of new recruits.

Growth & Tissue Recovery

Determining sponge growth is the most difficult aspect of this study, because these sponges are highly amorphous.  By analyzing paired side and top digital photos of sponges over time, we have documented several instances of ~30% volume regrowth of medium-sized sponges over 18 months following severe tissue loss by line damage (sponge AAC below), and also have found golfball- to baseball-sized recruits appearing suddenly between 6 mo visits.  Drastic changes in the size of medium to large-sized sponges have not been evident, however, suggesting that sponge growth may be very gradual or possibly episodic. 

X. muta | Population Dynamics | Bleaching | Monofilament Line | Age