As a crucial step in the identification of possible association between bacteria and sponges, we investigated if a unique bacterial population community was consistently associated with the surface of the sponge Mycale adhaerens, irrespective of environmental conditions. The composition of bacterial communities associated with the surface of sponges at three geographically distinctive sites in Hong Kong waters over four seasons was examined by analyzing terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism of the bacterial 16S rRNA genes. Statistical analysis indicated that bacterial communities on inanimate reference surfaces (polystyrene dishes deployed in the close vicinity of the sponge colonies for 7 days) had a relatively high degree of both site and seasonal specificities (R statistics of pairwise comparisons approximately 1), which might be attributed to the differences in environmental conditions at different sites and seasons. On the contrary, the sponge-surface-associated bacterial communities from different sites and seasons were hardly distinguishable from each other (lowest R = -0.16) but were rather distinctive from the reference bacterial communities (R approximately 1), suggesting a highly stable and distinctive bacteria-sponge association irrespective of the environmental conditions. The occurrence of some unique bacterial types in the sponge-surface-associated communities over space and time suggests that the associations are consistent and specific.
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