Siliceous sponges as a silicon sink: An overlooked aspect of the benthopelagic coupling in the marine silicon cycle

Maldonado, Manuel, Mª Carmen Carmona, Zoila Velásquez, Angels Puig, Antonio Cruzado, Angel López, Craig M. Young

Limnol. Oceanogr., 50(3), 2005, 799-809 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2005.50.3.0799

ABSTRACT: Our current understanding of the silicon (Si) cycle in the ocean assumes that diatoms dominate not only the uptake of silicic acid, but also the production and recycling of biogenic silica (BSi), and that other organisms with siliceous skeletons, including sponges, radiolarians, and silicoflagellates, play a negligible role. In this study, we reexamine some aspects of the potential contribution by sponges and present in vitro evidence that BSi in the form of sponge spicules redissolves into silicic acid at far slower rates than those known for diatom frustules. We also show that the retention of Si by siliceous sponges in some sublittoral and bathyal environments is substantial and that sponge populations function as Si sinks. Additionally, by reanalyzing published information on sponge growth and BSi content, we estimate that BSi production rates by sublittoral sponges in Si-poor and Si-rich marine areas fall quite close to values known for diatom assemblages. Therefore, sponges may affect Si cycling dynamics and Si availability for diatoms, particularly in Si-depleted environments. Altogether, our data strongly suggest that the role of sponges in the benthopelagic coupling of the Si cycle is significant.

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