The demosponge Hymeniacidon perlevis is characterized by wide geographic distribution and great adaptability to numerous and highly variable climatic and hydrological conditions. Indeed, the species can colonize many different environments, including several unusual ones, such as concrete drainage conduits of a marine land-based fish farm plant. This research aimed to enhance existing knowledge on the reproductive cycle and growth performance of H. perlevis while also evaluating the impact of a controlled supply of trophic resources, wastewater flow and constant water temperature on these biological traits.
Specimens included in this one-year study inhabited drainage conduits of a land-based fish farm. The approach included measurements of sponge biomass and occurrence and abundance of reproductive elements across different seasons and environmental parameters, such as fish biomass, trophic resources, and wastewater flow. Sponge growth and reproductive elements, including oocytes, spermatic cysts, and embryos, were measured monthly in sponges positioned in the drainage conduit, thus with different trophic resources but with constant water temperature. Finally, we used generalized additive models to describe variables that contribute the most to the growth of sponges.
Growth performance showed marked variations during the study period. The highest increase in sponge volume was observed from August/September to January/March. The volume of sponges was principally determined by the reduction of reared fish biomass and the increase of pellet amount and wastewater flow. Sponge specimens exhibited an active state during the entire study, as proven by the occurrence of recruits. However, sexual elements were only sporadically observed, thus not permitting the recognition of a true sexual cycle.
The results of the present study confirmed that H. perlevis exhibits high flexibility and adaptability to the differential, and somewhat extreme, environmental conditions. Indeed, this species can live, grow and reproduce in the drainage conduits of the fish farm, where the species face constant darkness, water temperature and continuous nutritional supply. In such conditions, H. perlevis display an active state during the entire year, while avoiding stages of decline and long dormancy usually observed in wild populations. It seems plausible that stable environmental conditions induce an almost continuous sexual phase, probably under the control of endogenous factors. No asexual elements were detected, although it was impossible to exclude the contribution of asexual reproduction in the origin of the newly settled sponges, which were repeatedly detected throughout the study. The growth performance seemed linked to the fish farm conditions, thus providing useful indications on the best maintenance conditions for H. perlevis in land-based integrated multitrophic systems, where the species could be used for wastewater treatment.