Single-cell measurement of ammonium and bicarbonate uptake within a photosymbiotic bioeroding sponge

Michelle Achlatis, Mathieu Pernice, Kathryn Green, Paul Guagliardo, Matthew R. Kilburn, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Sophie Dove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Some of the most aggressive coral-excavating sponges host intracellular dinoflagellates from the genus Symbiodinium, which are hypothesized to provide the sponges with autotrophic energy that powers bioerosion. Investigations of the contribution of Symbiodinium to host metabolism and particularly inorganic nutrient recycling are complicated, however, by the presence of alternative prokaryotic candidates for this role. Here, novel methods are used to study nutrient assimilation and transfer within and between the outer-layer cells of the Indopacific bioeroding sponge Cliona orientalis. Combining stable isotope labelling, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS), we visualize and measure metabolic activity at the individual cell level, tracking the fate of 15N-ammonium and 13C-bicarbonate within the intact holobiont. We found strong uptake of both inorganic sources (especially 13C-bicarbonate) by Symbiodinium cells. Labelled organic nutrients were translocated from Symbiodinium to the Symbiodinium-hosting sponge cells within 6 h, and occasionally to other sponge cells within 3 days. By contrast, prokaryotic symbionts were not observed to participate in inorganic nutrient assimilation in the outer layers of the sponge. Our findings strongly support the metabolic interaction between the sponge and dinoflagellates, shedding light on the ecological advantages and adaptive capacity of photosymbiotic bioeroding sponges in oligotrophic marine habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1308-1318
Number of pages11
JournalISME Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


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