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Emily McGrath

Emily is based at the University of Victoria in New Zealand and is studying the impacts of environmental degradation on the ecologically important Indo-Pacific Xestospangia species. In both biomass and species richness sponges exceed that of sessile invertebrates in tropical ecosystems. As coral cover continues to decline, some sponges are increasing in abundance and may stand to benefit from ocean acidification and increases in sea surface temperature. Some of the most conspicuous and ecologically important sponges on coral reefs fall into the genus Xestospongia, the giant barrel sponge. Xestospongia species may grow up to a meter in diameter and live to be hundreds of years old. Highly efficient particle retention, coupled with the ability to pump large quantities of water relative to their size, means that these sponges have the potential to strongly modify water column characteristics by removing a large portion of available food. Despite their ecological importance there is a notable lack of basic biological and ecological data on these sponges in the Indo-Pacific. Furthermore, these sponges are subject to habitat degradation due to anthropogenic activity, and changes in sponge populations may have major effects on the already vulnerable coral reefs in the Wakatobi Marine National Park. My research aims to quantify the effects of habitat degradation in this are on Xestospongia species within various parameters including growth, metabolism, predation, and reproduction.

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