The aftermath of a mass sponge die-off. Left: Healthy vase sponge Ircinia campana Right: Dead vase sponge after an algal bloom
We are currently studying the mechanism behind the mortality and the ecological feasibility of "jump-starting" sponge community restoration.

Sponge Community Restoration

Ecosystem restoration after harmful algal blooms

  • Counting and Measuring Sponges: To determine the damage from the 2007 algae bloom we first surveyed sponges in impacted and non-impacted areas.
  • Making cuttings for restoration: A glove sponge is cut into peices and each piece is attached to a concrete brick. These cuttings grow into "new" sponges.
  • Outplanting: Sponge cuttings are then transported to experimental hard-bottom locations previously impacted by algae blooms.
  • Growth and Survivial: We then monitor the growth and survival of transplanted sponges. These sponges should begin to reproduce and repopulate impacted areas.
Research in the Behringer lab also focuses on hard-bottom communities in southeast Florida and the Florida Keys with the aim of determining human and environmental impact patterns, and the potential for sustainable use or restoration. In the Florida Keys, we have been studying the impacts of recurring harmful plankton blooms on shallow hard-bottom communities, particularly sponges. These blooms devastate sponges, some > 1 m wide, that form much of the structure in this critical habitat. Many ecologically and economically valuable organisms such as spiny lobsters, stone crabs, snappers, and groupers rely on this habitat for their early ontogeny.

We are studying the potential for ecosystem restoration in the wake of these algal blooms. Cyanobacteria blooms blanketed much of central and western Florida Bay during the summer and fall of 2007. This bloom devastated the sponge communities in these areas, which provide much needed water column filtration, while also providing habitat for many ecologically important organisms such as crabs, lobsters, and fish. We are investigating the potential for sponge restoration and developing techniques that can be scaled to an ecosystem-level effort.

From the Behringer Lab

Funding Agencies