Successful dispersal of freshwater sponges depends on the formation of dormant sponge bodies (gemmules) under adverse conditions. Gemmule formation allows the sponge to overcome critical environmental conditions, for example, desiccation or freezing, and to re-establish as a fully developed sponge when conditions are more favorable. A key process in sponge development from hatched gemmules is the construction of the silica skeleton. Silica spicules form the structural support for the three-dimensional filtration system the sponge uses to filter food particles from ambient water. We studied the effect of different hypergravity forces (1, 2.5, 5, 10, and 20 g for 48 h)-as measure for environmental stress-on the ability of developing sponges to set-up their spiculous skeleton. Additionally, we assessed whether the addition of nutrients (i.e., dissolved 13C- and 15N-labeled amino acids) compensates for this stress. Our results show that freshwater sponges can withstand prolonged periods of hypergravity exposure and successfully set-up their skeleton, even after 48 h under 20 g. Developing sponges were found to take up and assimilate dissolved food before forming a functional filtering system. However, fed and non-fed sponges showed no differences in skeleton formation and relative surface area growth, suggesting that the gemmules' intrinsic energy fulfills the processes of skeleton construction. Additionally, non-fed sponges formed oscula significantly more often than fed sponges, especially under higher g-forces. This suggests that the eventual formation of a filtration system might be stimulated by food deprivation and environmentally stressful conditions. These findings indicate that the process of spiculous skeleton formation is energy-efficient and highly resilient. The uptake of dissolved food substances by freshwater sponges may contribute to the cycling of dissolved organic matter in freshwater ecosystems where sponges are abundant.
Bart, M. C., de Vet, S. J., de Bakker, D. M., Alexander, B. E., van Oevelen, D., Emiel van Loon, E., ... de Goeij, J. M. (2019). Spiculous skeleton formation in the freshwater sponge Ephydatia fluviatilis under hypergravity conditions. PeerJ, 2019(1), [e6055]. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.6055