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information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Bowerbank's halichondria (Halichondria (Halichondria) bowerbanki)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.

Summary

Description

The growth form varies from thin to massively encrusting, with tassel-like irregular branches which form flattened masses. Colonies can be up to 25 cm across with branches reaching 12 cm high. It is beige to dull brown in the summer, and light grey/yellow in the winter. It typically turns a characteristic yellow-orange when spawning because of the colour of the larvae. There are no obvious large exhalent openings (oscules) present and the surface is smooth or uneven with a breadcrumb-like texture.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Commonly found in southern England, Pembrokeshire and north-west Wales, also frequently found in western Scotland. Isolated records from the North Sea.

Global distribution

Present on both sides of the North Atlantic. In Europe, it has been reported south to Brittany and is found in the south-west Netherlands and in harbours of the Wadden Sea. It is a non-native species in North America.

Habitat

Present on rocky surfaces in the shallow subtidal, with occasional intertidal specimens under overhanging rocks. Halichondria bowerbanki occupies wave-sheltered, sediment-rich environments. It often grows intertwined with hydroids and algae and may be common in estuaries. May occur in areas sheltered from strong tidal flow through to tidal sounds.

Depth range

0 to 90 m

Identifying features

  • Characteristic stringy appearance.
  • Breadcrumb-like texture.
  • No apparent exhalent openings.
  • Colour variable but often yellowish beige in colour.

Additional information

Microscopic examination of the spicules reveals that they are relatively long and thin, and taper to the apices. Named after James S. Bowerbank (1797-1877), a pioneering authority on sponges. Easily confused with Halichondria panicea but Halichondria bowerbanki is distinguished by the absence of the chimney-like oscules that occur in Halichondria panicea.

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Further information sources

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Biology review

Taxonomy

PhylumPorifera
ClassDemospongiae
OrderSuberitida
FamilyHalichondriidae
GenusHalichondria
AuthorityBurton, 1930
Recent SynonymsHalichondria bowerbanki

Biology

Typical abundanceData deficient
Male size range<25 cm
Male size at maturityData deficient
Female size range<25 cm
Female size at maturityData deficient
Growth formCrustose soft
Growth rate1.1 mm / day (in summer)
Body flexibilityHigh (greater than 45 degrees)
MobilitySessile
Characteristic feeding methodActive suspension feeder, Passive suspension feeder
Diet/food sourceNo information
Typically feeds onFine suspended organic matter
SociabilityColonial
Environmental positionEpifaunal, Epilithic
DependencyInsufficient information.
SupportsNo information
Is the species harmful?No

Biology information

Under optimal conditions (and with a low sample number) Vethaak et al. (1982) recorded a mean length increase of 1.1 mm / day in summer and no growth in winter. Vethaak et al. (1982) identified five distinct growth forms (plus intermediate forms) including encrusting, bush-like and massive forms.  They reported a maximum colony size of 25 cm width to 12 cm high although most colonies are rarely this big.

In some sheltered locations, the branches grow over other species and loop like bramble stolons attaching to any suitable object they encounter. Found to house a large community of associated amphipod species which show seasonal variation (Biernbaum, 1981). The green filamentous algae Microspora ficulinae lives in association with the tissues of Halichondria bowerbanki.

Habitat preferences

Physiographic preferencesEstuary, Isolated saline water (Lagoon), Ria / Voe, Strait / sound
Biological zone preferencesCircalittoral, Infralittoral, Sublittoral fringe
Substratum / habitat preferencesOverhangs
Tidal strength preferencesModerately Strong 1 to 3 knots (0.5-1.5 m/sec.), Strong 3 to 6 knots (1.5-3 m/sec.), Weak < 1 knot (<0.5 m/sec.)
Wave exposure preferencesSheltered
Salinity preferencesFull (30-40 psu), Reduced (18-30 psu)
Depth range0 to 90 m
Other preferences
Migration PatternNon-migratory / resident

Habitat Information

Occurs in muddy environments where the similar sponge Halichondria panicea cannot survive. It reaches its best development in harbours.  In the Oosterschelde, Halichondria bowerbanki was found growing on tunicates (especially Styela clava), molluscs and, in a brackish lagoon, on small reefs of Electra crustulenta (Vethaak et al., 1982). In the United Kingdom, Halichondria bowerbanki (studied as Halichondria coalita) was recorded to depths of 90 m (Bowerbank, 1874, cited in Vethaak et al., 1982).

Life history

Adult characteristics

Reproductive typeSee additional information
Reproductive frequency No information
Fecundity (number of eggs)Data deficient
Generation timeInsufficient information
Age at maturityNo information
SeasonNo information
Life spanInsufficient information

Larval characteristics

Larval/propagule typeParenchymella
Larval/juvenile development Viviparous (Parental Care)
Duration of larval stageNo information
Larval dispersal potential No information
Larval settlement periodInsufficient information

Life history information

In the Oosterschelde, large oocytes and embryos found from early August until mid-October which coincided with a drop in water temperature from maximal summer values to about 14°C (Vethaak et al., 1982). Wapstra & van Soest (1987) recorded that Halichondria bowerbanki from the same area contained oocytes from April through to November although embryos were only observed from June to November. Newly settled colonies were seen within just over a year, i.e. the following September and October (Vethaak et al., 1982). Wapstra & van Soest (1982) noted that it was possible that Halichondria bowerbanki could be protandrous or protogynous hermaphrodites. 

No information was found concerning the lifespan of Halichondria bowerbanki, although a lifespan of about 3 years was suggested for the closely related Halichondria panicea in Fish & Fish (1996). Halichondria bowerbanki survives over the winter months as a dormant form with no growth and a disintegration of tissue. In the Oosterschelde, this species experienced a drastic reduction in biomass during the severe winter of 1978/9, especially in the intertidal (Vethaak et al., 1982).

Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

Physical pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
High High Moderate Moderate

The sponge is attached to the substratum and is unlikely to survive substratum loss. However, settlement of new colonies is likely within one year and growth rate is almost certainly rapid. Therefore, intolerance and recoverability have been recorded as high.

Intermediate High Low Low
Halichondria bowerbanki has extensive erect tasselated growths that will most likely extend above settled silt. In the Oosterschelde, Halichondria bowerbanki has been found growing covered in silt and debris (Vethaak et al., 1982), therefore the colony will most likely survive smothering by silt at the level of the benchmark. However, there may be significant inhibition of feeding and respiration and small colonies may suffer mortality if deoxygenation below the silt occurs. On balance, therefore, an intolerance of intermediate has been suggested. However, settlement of new colonies is likely within one year and growth rate is most likely rapid. Hence, a recoverability of high has been recorded.
Low Immediate Not sensitive High
Halichondria bowerbanki lives in situations such as the entrance to estuaries and in harbours where suspended sediment levels and settlement of silt is often high. The similar sponge Halichondria panicea has a mechanism for sloughing off their complete outer tissue layer together with any debris (Bartel & Wolfrath, 1989). It is expected that the sponge can, therefore, cope with increased siltation rates and suspended sediment.  However, there is probably an energetic cost in clearing sediment from tissues and an intolerance of low has been recorded.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Moderate

The sponge may derive some benefit from organic matter as food in the suspended sediment but there is probably an energetic cost in clearing sediment from tissues. On balance, tolerant is suggested.

Intermediate High Low Low

Halichondria bowerbanki may occur under overhangs and in damp places on the lower shore but does not live in such open conditions as Halichondria panicea. Desiccation would be likely to have a significant adverse effect on the sponge with bleaching and tissue death likely at the edges of the colony. Regrowth will most likely occur rapidly as growth is likely from remaining tissue or settlement. However, for the level of the benchmark, an intolerance of intermediate is suggested with a recoverability of high.

High High Moderate Low

Desiccation is likely to be the main impact of increased emergence and established colonies are likely to be significantly damaged and lost at the upper limit of their intertidal range. The species prefers subtidal habitats and Vethaak et al. (1982) described intertidal colonies of Halichondria bowerbanki in the Oosterschelde as undersized. Where emergence is increased, intertidal colonies will most likely be killed and so, with reference to intertidal colonies, intolerance is assessed as high.

Tolerant* Not relevant Not sensitive* High

The species is mainly subtidal so that a decrease in emergence that makes intertidal species subtidal will benefit the species.

Intermediate Very high Low High

Halichondria bowerbanki is tolerant of various hydrographic regimes (Vethaak et al., 1982). The species is found in locations exposed to strong tidal flow but, where it is growing in habitats where tidal streams are normally weak, an increase in flow may result in damage to the colonies through tearing-off of erect structures or by poorly attached massive growths being swept away. The substratum may also be dislodged in part through the drag caused by the sponge. Feeding may be inhibited by strong flow.  However, damage is likely to be rapidly repaired (see Bowerbank, 1857) and mortality is unlikely to be total with re-growth occurring once water flow rates return to normal. An intolerance of intermediate with a very high recovery has been suggested.

Low Immediate Not sensitive Low

Halichondria bowerbanki has been recorded in isolated lagoons with no water movement in the Oosterschelde (Vethaak et al., 1982).  Although small in its upper range, larger specimens were found growing lower down. A reduction in water flow rates in situations sheltered from wave action may lead to a reduced food supply and possible local de-oxygenation although in general, an intolerance of low has been suggested since mortality is unlikely.

Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Moderate

Halichondria bowerbanki has a wide distribution in the north-east Atlantic with Britain and Ireland central to that distribution so that the species exists well-within its normal temperature survival range.

Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Moderate

Halichondria bowerbanki has a wide distribution in the north-east Atlantic with Britain and Ireland central to that distribution so that the species exists well-within its normal temperature survival range.

Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low

Halichondria bowerbanki was found to occur in higher population densities on more shaded and totally dark surfaces compared to well lit areas in the Oosterschelde (Vethaak et al., 1982). It may extend its range to shallow areas previously dominated by algae if turbidity increases. However, change in turbidity may be caused by increased suspended sediment levels which may clog feeding pores or cause expenditure of energy to clean colonies (see Increase in suspended sediment above). On balance, 'tolerant' is suggested.

Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Moderate

Halichondria bowerbanki occurs in low light levels and algae may encroach the upper limits of its range if turbidity declines and light levels increase. If the change in turbidity is caused by decreased suspended sediment levels, sponges will expend less energy in cleaning. On balance, tolerant is suggested.

Intermediate High Low Low

The shape of sponge colonies is influenced heavily by the hydrodynamics of the environment and, in ‘high stress’ environments such as very wave exposed areas, the colonies are often undersized or encrusting (Vethaak et al., 1982). Colonies of Halichondria bowerbanki live in areas sheltered from wave action and, where wave exposure increases, some large and poorly attached colonies may be displaced. For a closely related species, Halichondria panicea, the growth rate is rapid (about 5% increase per month: Barthel, 1988) and recovery would be expected to occur quickly after reversion to previous conditions. Intolerance is assessed as intermediate and recoverability as high.

Tolerant* Not relevant Not sensitive* High

Colonies of Halichondria bowerbanki thrive in areas sheltered from wave action so that they would be expected to benefit from a decrease in wave action.

Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive High

Sponges have no known receptors for noise.

Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive High

Sponges have no known visual receptors.

Intermediate High Low Moderate

The sponge is attached to the substratum and is unlikely to survive abrasion and physical disturbance.  However, where merely damaged, repair is likely to occur very rapidly as in the related Halichondria panicea (Bowerbank, 1857) whilst settlement of new colonies is likely within one year and growth rate is rapid.  Sponges may also regrow from tissue remaining in crevices or other irregularities and that were not affected by the abrasion. Therefore, an intolerance of intermediate is suggested with a recoverability of high.

High High Moderate Moderate

The sponge is attached to the substratum and is unlikely to survive being detached and displaced even though it remains in the area unless the location is very sheltered from disturbing conditions such as wave action. It is possible that detached colonies that become trapped under boulders or in fissures may re-attach. Settlement of new colonies is likely within one year and the growth rate is rapid. Sponges may also regrow from tissue remaining in crevices or other irregularities and that were not affected by the displacement.

Chemical pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
No information Not relevant No information Not relevant

Insufficient
information.

Heavy metal contamination
No information Not relevant No information Not relevant

Insufficient
information.

Hydrocarbon contamination
Low High Low Low

Very little information has been found. It appears that the similar species Halichondria panicea survived in areas affected by the Torrey Canyon oil spill (Smith, 1968), although few observations were made. If mortality occurred, settlement of new colonies is likely within one year and growth rate is rapid.

Radionuclide contamination
No information Not relevant No information Not relevant

Insufficient
information.

Changes in nutrient levels
Not relevant Not relevant No information Not relevant

Insufficient
information.

Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low

Halichondria bowerbanki is euryhaline (Vethaak et al., 1982) and occurs in areas subject to full and low salinity and tolerant has been suggested.

Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low

Halichondria bowerbanki is euryhaline and has been recorded in polyhaline lagoons in the Oosterschelde (Vethaak et al., 1982). It seems likely that it will survive acute changes for a few days because the sponge grows in areas subject to high freshwater outflow in periods of heavy river flow and, overall, tolerant has been suggested.

Intermediate High Low Low

Halichondria bowerbanki lives in areas of flowing water, which suggests that it is likely to need a good supply of oxygen for survival. Cole et al. (1999) suggest possible adverse effects on marine species below 4 mg/l and probable adverse effects below 2mg/l.   However, no information was found concerning the tolerance of Halichondria bowerbanki to changes in oxygenation. Settlement of new colonies is likely within one year and the growth rate is rapid.

Biological pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
No information Not relevant No information Not relevant

No literature was found concerning diseases and parasites in Halichondria bowerbanki. The similar sponge Halichondria panicea has a mechanism for sloughing off the outer tissue layer (Bartel & Wolfrath, 1989) which may also be a means of removing pathogens or epizooites.

Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low

There are no alien species currently known to compete with or adversely affect Halichondria bowerbanki.

Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Moderate

No targeted extraction of this species is known. Were it to be extracted, it is expected that tissue would be left behind and would regrow. Growth rates of about 5% per week are recorded for the similar Halichondria panicea (Barthel, 1988).

Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant

The species is not known to be associated with other species that might be extracted.

Additional information

Importance review

Policy/legislation

Status

Non-native

Importance information

None.

Bibliography

  1. Barthel, D. & Wolfrath, B., 1989. Tissue sloughing in the sponge Halichondria panicea: a fouling organism prevents being fouled. Oecologia, 78, 357-360.

  2. Barthel, D., 1988. On the ecophysiology of the sponge Halichondria panicea in Kiel Bight. II. Biomass, production, energy budget and integration in environmental processes. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 43, 87-93.

  3. Biernbaum, C. K., 1981. Seasonal changes in the Amphipod fauna of Microciona prolifera (Ellis and Solander) (Porifera: Demospongia) and associated Sponges in a shallow Salt-Marsh Creek. Estuaries, 4, 85-96.

  4. Bowerbank, J.S., 1874. A monograph of the British Spongiadae, vol. lll. London: Hardwicke.

  5. Cole, S., Codling, I.D., Parr, W. & Zabel, T., 1999. Guidelines for managing water quality impacts within UK European Marine sites. Natura 2000 report prepared for the UK Marine SACs Project. 441 pp., Swindon: Water Research Council on behalf of EN, SNH, CCW, JNCC, SAMS and EHS. [UK Marine SACs Project.]. Available from: http://ukmpa.marinebiodiversity.org/uk_sacs/pdfs/water_quality.pdf

  6. Franham, W. F., Blunden, G., Gordon, S.M. 1985. Occurrence and pigment analysis of the sponge endobiont Microspora ficulinae (Chlorophyceae). Botanica Marina, 28, 79-81.

  7. Hayward, P., Nelson-Smith, T. & Shields, C. 1996. Collins pocket guide. Sea shore of Britain and northern Europe. London: HarperCollins.

  8. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  9. Moss, D., & Ackers, G. (eds.), 1982. The UCS Sponge Guide. Produced by R. Earll. Ross-on-Wye: The Underwater Conservation Society.

  10. Smith, J.E. (ed.), 1968. 'Torrey Canyon'. Pollution and marine life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  11. Van Soest, R.W.M., Picton, B. & Morrow, C., 2000. Sponges of the North East Atlantic. [CD-ROM] Windows version 1.0. Amsterdam: Biodiversity Center of ETI, Multimedia Interactive Software. [World Biodiversity Database CD-ROM Series.]

  12. Vethaak, A.D., Cronie, R.J.A. & van Soest, R.W.M., 1982. Ecology and distribution of two sympatric, closely related sponge species, Halichondria panicea (Pallas, 1766) and H. bowerbanki Burton, 1930 (Porifera, Demospongiae), with remarks on their speciation. Bijdragen tot de Dierkunde, 52, 82-102.

  13. Wapstra, M. & van Soest, R.W.M., 1987. Sexual reproduction, larval morphology and behaviour in demosponges from the southwest of the Netherlands. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Datasets

  1. Centre for Environmental Data and Recording, 2018. Ulster Museum Marine Surveys of Northern Ireland Coastal Waters. Occurrence dataset https://www.nmni.com/CEDaR/CEDaR-Centre-for-Environmental-Data-and-Recording.aspx accessed via NBNAtlas.org on 2018-09-25.

  2. Kent Wildlife Trust, 2018. Kent Wildlife Trust Shoresearch Intertidal Survey 2004 onwards. Occurrence dataset: https://www.kentwildlifetrust.org.uk/ accessed via NBNAtlas.org on 2018-10-01.

  3. Manx Biological Recording Partnership, 2018. Isle of Man historical wildlife records 1990 to 1994. Occurrence dataset:https://doi.org/10.15468/aru16v accessed via GBIF.org on 2018-10-01.

  4. Merseyside BioBank., 2018. Merseyside BioBank (unverified). Occurrence dataset: https://doi.org/10.15468/iou2ld accessed via GBIF.org on 2018-10-01.

  5. National Trust, 2017. National Trust Species Records. Occurrence dataset: https://doi.org/10.15468/opc6g1 accessed via GBIF.org on 2018-10-01.

  6. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from: https://www.nbnatlas.org.

  7. OBIS (Ocean Biogeographic Information System),  2022. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. www.iobis.org. Accessed: 2022-08-16

  8. South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre, 2018. SEWBReC Marine and other Aquatic Invertebrates (South East Wales). Occurrence dataset:https://doi.org/10.15468/zxy1n6 accessed via GBIF.org on 2018-10-02.

Citation

This review can be cited as:

Hiscock, K. & Jones, H. 2007. Halichondria (Halichondria) bowerbanki Bowerbank's halichondria. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 16-08-2022]. Available from: https://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/1841

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Last Updated: 17/04/2007