How can coral reefs, one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems in the world, thrive in the marine equivalent of a desert? Scientists from six Dutch knowledge institutes, including Wageningen University, appear to have solved this question, also known as Darwin’s paradox, after 171 years. The results were published in the scholarly journal Science on Friday.
Photo: Sponges - © Lisa Becking
The team of researchers lead by Jasper de Goeij (University of Amsterdam) and Dick van Oevelen (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, or NIOZ) discovered that sponges form the missing link between corals and algae and other reef inhabitants. Sponges recycle dissolved organic matter and convert it into food for other reef inhabitants. This essential conversion, referred to by the scientists as a sponge loop, ensures that food and energy are preserved.