Behind the science:

Trophodynamics of the sclerosponge Ceratoporella nicholsoni along a...



   2020, October 27
Posted by Veronica Radice

An interview with:
Keir Macartney
University of New Hampshire  ()
Interview keywords
Study location
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“Ecology and trophodynamics of Caribbean mesophotic sclerosponges”


What was the most challenging aspect of your study (can be anything from field, lab to analysis)?

One of the most challenging parts of the field work was the collection of shallow specimens of Ceratoporella nicholsoni. They are tucked away in cryptic spaces of the reef so collecting them involved quite a lot of squeezing into small, awkward spaces.

What was the most memorable moment in undertaking this study?

Either getting close to some sea turtles at our shallow site or just getting to dive the mesophotic reefs in Grand Cayman. They take the form of steep slopes or walls and are covered with a diverse array of sponges and octocorals. After 60 m we often found massive Xestospongia muta and of course, plenty of sclerosponges!

Sclerosponges in an overhang of a mesophotic reef in Grand Cayman (C) Liz Kintzing [CC BY-NC 4.0]
Sclerosponges in a mesophotic cryptic space (Grand Cayman) (C) Keir Macartney [CC BY-NC 4.0]

What was your favorite research site in this study and why?

This study worked along a continuous shallow to mesophotic depth gradient off of Grand Cayman. The site was located next to the USS Kittiwake (ASR-13) artificial reef, so we could do a portion of our deco stops at the wreck, which had plenty of sponges, coral and reef fish to check out.

Other than your co-authors, with whom would you like to share credit for this work?

In Depth Watersports in Grand Cayman. They provided the gases, boat and support for this work and were incredibly helpful throughout the time we were in the field. Always fun to be on the boat with them! Our DSO at UNH, Liz Kintzing, also deserves a lot of credit as she keeps us all safe and is ready for any rebreather problem that crops up in the field.

Keir Macartney deco stop on the Kittiwake wreck, Grand Cayman (C) Liz Kintzing [CC BY-NC 4.0]
Mesophotic reef sponges in Grand Cayman (C) Michael Lesser [CC BY-NC 4.0]

Any important lessons learned (through mistakes, experience or methodological advances)?

Always download data and results from your server to your computer. Some of my molecular analyses had finished running but our server went down for an extended period. As a result, I was unable to access any of my files for subsequent analysis which delayed finishing this project.

Can we expect any follow-up on this work?

I hope so, but for now I am focusing on open reef sponges on mesophotic reefs. In particular, I am assessing any changes in their microbial community structure and function along a shallow to mesophotic depth gradient in Grand Cayman, and how any potential changes could affect their trophic strategies.

Turtle at our shallow site in Grand Cayman (C) Keir Macartney [CC BY-NC 4.0]
Sponges on a mesophotic overhang at 91 m depth in Grand Cayman (C) Keir Macartney [CC BY-NC 4.0]

Featured article:

Trophodynamics of the sclerosponge Ceratoporella nicholsoni along a shallow to mesophotic depth gradient | article
Macartney KJ, Pankey MS, Slattery M, Lesser MP (2020)
Coral Reefs