Morphological plasticity and ecological aspects of the demosponge Geodia cydonium (Jameson) were studied from seasonal samples collected over 1 year in two semi-enclosed Mediterranean bays of the Southern Italian coast (Marsala lagoon and Porto Cesareo basin). Sponge specimens present two morphs: sessile and nonsessile, both of which showed constant size distribution and density over the studied year. Sessile specimens were larger in size than non-sessile ones. This feature is particularly evident at Porto Cesareo, where these sponges have a more compact skeletal network than at Marsala (evident both in the cortical spicule size and sponge silica content). Sessile specimens adhere to hard rocky substrates (Porto Cesareo) or phanerogam rhizomes (Marsala); non-sessile ones occur on soft bottom areas. Several morphological and structural features of the non-sessile forms differ in the two environments, but the difference in body shape seems to play the most relevant role in enhancing the colonization of incoherent substrates. Indeed, at Marsala, where the large amount of silt and clay determines the occurrence of a markedly reduced anoxic layer just below the surface of the sediment, non-sessile specimens of G. cydonium are fairly spherical and thus able to roll, dragged by slow circular currents. In addition, the usual association with the red alga Rytyphlo¨ ea tinctoria, which almost constantly forms a thick and continuous layer around the sponge, allows them to avoid contact with the substrate. The non-sessile specimens from Porto Cesareo inhabit sandy soft bottoms and are flattened. In such an environment,affected by moderate wave turbulence, the flattened shape widens the contact surface between the body and the substrate, thereby reducing the risk of stranding. The evident signs of abrasion, provided by scanning electron microscopy investigations, on both cortical spicules and outermost sponge surface suggest that sponges rub on the bottom. Sediment, epibiontic organisms, and the phanerogam leaves protect this sciaphilous sponge from high solar radiation, allowing the specimens to live in these shallow environments.
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