pH regulation and tissue coordination pathways promote calcium carbonate bioerosion by excavating sponges

Coral reefs are threatened by a multitude of environmental and biotic influences. Among these, excavating sponges raise particular concern since they bore into coral skeleton forming extensive cavities which lead to weakening and loss of reef structures. Sponge bioerosion is achieved by a combination of chemical dissolution and mechanical chip removal and ocean acidification has been shown to accelerate bioerosion rates. However, despite the ecological relevance of sponge bioerosion, the exact chemical conditions in which dissolution takes place and how chips are removed remain elusive. Using fluorescence microscopy, we show that intracellular pH is lower at etching sites compared to ambient seawater and the sponge’s tissue. This is realised through the extension of filopodia filled with low intracellular pH vesicles suggesting that protons are actively transported into this microenvironment to promote CaCO3 dissolution. Furthermore, fusiform myocyte-like cells forming reticulated pathways were localised at the interface between calcite and sponge. Such cells may be used by sponges to contract a conductive pathway to remove chips possibly instigated by excess Ca2+ at the boring site. The mechanism underlying CaCO3 dissolution by sponges provides new insight into how environmental conditions can enhance dissolution and improves predictions of future rates of coral dissolution due to sponge activity.

Webb A. E., Pomponi S. A., Duyl F. C., Reichart G.-J. & Nooijer L. J., 2019. pH regulation and tissue coordination pathways promote calcium carbonate bioerosion by excavating sponges. Scientific Reports 9: 758. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-36702-8. Article.

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