Living with an enemy: invasive sun-coral (Tubastraea spp.) competing against sponges Desmapsamma anchorata in southeastern Brazil.
The azooxanthellate corals Tubastraea coccinea and T. tagusensis invaded the Brazilian coast in the 1980s and is still in expansion, favored by lower predation and competition pressure in their new habitats. Interestingly, the native sponge Desmapsamma anchorata has been observed overgrowing these corals. Considering that competitive displacement is expected to play a major role in the successful outcome of an invasion, the present study tested the physical and chemical mechanisms possibly involved in the competition between D. anchorata and the Tubastraea corals through field and aquaria experiments as well as the Raman spectroscopy technique for chemical analysis. Our results showed that the sponge grew in all directions including over Tubastraea colonies and regardless of its presence. There was no evidence of a specific chemical response among sponges or corals. However, we observed the extrusion of mesenteric filaments and tentacles of corals and the projection of sponge tissue during interspecific interaction, which suggests that physical imposition plays a key role for space competition at micro scales. Given the interspersed nature of benthic species distributions and the fast expansion of Tubastraea, it is unlikely that D. anchorata or any other sponges could serve a biological control against these invasive corals at larger scales, but our results showed that at a microscale they can withstand the corals presence and even outgrow them locally.