Sponges are functionally important coral reef fauna and there is strong evidence from the Caribbean that predation has important impacts on sponge-assemblage dynamics; whether the same is true for Indo-Pacific sponges remains unknown. As a first step toward understanding the potential effects of spongivores on sponge diversity and abundance, we identified sponge predators at nine sites in Wakatobi Marine National Park, Indonesia, and conducted a short-term caging experiment to examine the effects of excluding predators on noncryptic reef sponges at this location. Nudibranchs were the most abundant invertebrate spongivores, although their low densities are likely to limit their influence on sponges. Fish were the most abundant vertebrate spongivores with 16 species from six families observed feeding on sponges. Based on their abundance and our feeding observations, the fish with the greatest potential to influence sponge assemblages in Wakatobi Marine National Park were Zanclus cornutus, Chaetodon kleinii, Pygoplites diacanthus, and Pomacanthus sexstriatus. We did not detect an effect of excluding spongivores on noncryptic reef sponge abundance in our caging experiment, which may be due to these species having evolved chemical defenses against predators. Important areas for further research include the chemical ecology of Indo-Pacific sponges and whether spongivory currently restricts some species to cryptic or nonreef habitats.
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Vol. 69 • No. 4