, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 198–222

Historical Changes in Marine Resources, Food-web Structure and Ecosystem Functioning in the Adriatic Sea, Mediterranean


DOI: 10.1007/s10021-010-9404-8

Cite this article as:
Lotze, H.K., Coll, M. & Dunne, J.A. Ecosystems (2011) 14: 198. doi:10.1007/s10021-010-9404-8


The Mediterranean Sea has been strongly influenced by human activities for millennia. Although the environmental history of its surrounding terrestrial ecosystems has received considerable study, historical changes in its marine realm are less known. We used a multidisciplinary approach combining paleontological, archeological, historical, fisheries, and ecological data to reconstruct past changes in marine populations, habitats, and water quality in the Adriatic Sea. Then, we constructed binary food webs for different historical periods to analyze possible changes in food-web structure and functioning over time. Our results indicate that human activities have influenced marine resource abundance since at least Roman times and accelerated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today, 98% of traditional marine resources are depleted to less than 50% of former abundance, with large (>1 m) predators and consumers being most affected. With 37% of investigated species rare and 11% extirpated, diversity has shifted towards smaller, lower trophic-level species, further aggravated by more than 40 species invasions. Species providing habitat and filter functions have been reduced by 75%, contributing to the degradation of water quality and increased eutrophication. Increased exploitation and functional extinctions have altered and simplified food-web structure over time, especially by changing the proportions of top predators, intermediate consumers, and basal species. Moreover, simulations of species losses indicate that today’s ecosystems may be less robust to species extinctions than in the past. Our results illustrate the long-term and far-reaching consequences human activities can have on marine food webs and ecosystems.


ecological historymarine populationsexploitationhabitat losseutrophicationextinctioninvasionfood-web structureecosystem modelling

Supplementary material

10021_2010_9404_MOESM1_ESM.doc (772 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 772 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heike K. Lotze
    • 1
  • Marta Coll
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jennifer A. Dunne
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Biology DepartmentDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.Institut de Ciencies del Mar (ICM-CSIC), Passeig maritim de la Barceloneta 37-49BarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.Santa Fe InstituteSanta FeUSA
  4. 4.Pacific Ecoinformatics and Computational Ecology LabBerkeleyUSA