16 February 2015

Ocean Giants: Giant Barrel Sponge

As the name implies, the giant barrel sponge abundantly found in the Caribbean is the largest known reef-building sponge.

The giant barrel sponge Xestospongia muta (photo by Dr. Joseph Pawlik) [1].

The largest known individual had a base diameter of 2.5 m which served as a scuba attraction off CuraƧao back in the 1980s [2]. Based on growth models, the estimated age of this sponge was more or less 2,300 years. It was compared to the oldest known redwood tree Sequoia semipervirens (2,000 years old) and thus was named the “redwood of the reef” [3]. 

The  vast size of the barrel sponge translates to a tremendous filtering capacity, a substantial source of inorganic nutrients and also an association with many important prokaryotic and eukaryotic symbionts. The role of sponges is invaluable as they greatly contribute to the productivity of reef communities [4]. To illustrate, below is a short introductory video on sponge biology by Dr. Joseph Pawlik.

To know more about the giant barrel sponge, visit SeaLifeBase.

If you have other information on them, which you wish to include in our information system, please e-mail us at sealifebase@fin.ph or join us as a collaborator.

[1] McMurray, S., and J. Pawlik. 2009. Caribbean barrel sponges. Coral Reef Science Made Accessible. Accessed on 06/02/2015 at http://www.coralscience.org/main/articles/climate-a-ecology-16/caribbean-sponges
[2] Nagelkerken, I., L. Aerts, and L. Pors. 2000. Barrel sponge bows out. Reef Encounter 28:14–15.
[3] McMurray, S.E., J.E. Blum, and J.R. Pawlik. 2008. Redwood of the reef: growth and age of the giant barrel sponge Xestospongia muta in the Florida Keys. Marine Biology 155:159–171.
[4] Bertin, M., and M. Callahan. 2008. Distribution, abundance and volume of Xestospongia muta at selected Sites in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. In Proc 11th Int Coral Reef Symp (Vol. 2, pp. 686-690).

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