"Marine sponges have started dying in vast numbers in coastal areas around the
globe. Just this year, thousands of sponges turned white and died in New
Zealand and in the Mediterranean Sea. This has been happening when the water
gets too warm, but the underlying cause has remained a mystery. Until now.
We know these sponges play a crucial role in recycling key elements such as
carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus. In doing so, they keep nutrient
cycles ticking over, to the benefit of all life on Earth.
This happens mainly through their very close association, or “symbiosis”, with
diverse and abundant microbes. These microbes live in the sponge tissue as
“life partners”. Sponges benefit from these tight relationships, as the
microbes produce energy, recycle nutrients and provide beneficial molecules for
In our new research, we found the cause of death is likely to be the sudden
loss of a key microbe at high temperatures. This might rapidly poison the
sponge, because this specific microbe is usually required to remove ammonia, a
toxic metabolic waste product, from the sponge’s tissues. Without this crucial
process, the sponge dies."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics