Giant barrel sponges are hijacking Florida’s coral reefs | Science News



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Giant barrel sponges are hijacking Florida’s coral reefs

Change could spell bad news for animals that live there

8:00am, September 17, 2015
Diver with giant barrel sponge

TAKEOVER  Between 2000 and 2012, the numbers of giant barrel sponges (one from the Bahamas shown) in the Florida Keys swelled.  

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Huge sponges are taking over coral reefs in Florida.

Between 2000 and 2012, the giant barrel sponge, Xestospongia muta — which can grow to over a meter tall and wide — covered increasing territory on two reefs off Florida’s Key Largo. The number of sponges per square meter increased on both reefs, on one by an average of 122 percent, researchers report in an upcoming Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. More baby sponges attached to the reefs while existing sponges survived and grew, says study coauthor Joseph Pawlik, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Barrel sponges are native to Florida’s coral reefs, and it’s not clear why they are suddenly increasing. Pawlik says the sponges may

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