, Volume 580, Issue 1, pp 7-21

Biodiversity issues for the forthcoming tropical Mediterranean Sea

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Abstract

Present-day Mediterranean marine biodiversity is undergoing rapid alteration. Because of the increased occurrence of warm-water biota, it has been said that the Mediterranean is under a process of ‘tropicalization’. This paper analyses the main patterns of the Mediterranean Sea tropicalization and considers briefly its extent and consequences. As happened during previous interglacial phases of the Quaternary, Atlantic water, entering via the Straits of Gibraltar, carries into the Mediterranean species that are prevalently of (sub)tropical affinity. On the other side of the basin, Red Sea species penetrate through the Suez Canal, a phenomenon called lessepsian migration from the name of F. de Lesseps, the French engineer who promoted the cutting of the Canal. Also the many exotic species introduced by humans voluntarily or involuntarily are nearly always typical of warm waters. Climate change combines with Atlantic influx, lessepsian migration and the introduction of exotic species by humans to the establishment of tropical marine biota in the Mediterranean Sea. Present-day warming ultimately favours the spread of warm-water species through direct and indirect effects, and especially by changing water circulation. It is impossible at present to foresee to what extent the exuberance of warm-water species will affect the trophic web and the functioning of marine ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea of tomorrow. While Mediterranean Sea communities are modifying their pattern of species composition, they do not seem to be acquiring a more marked tropical physiognomy: Mediterranean coastal marine ecosystems are still dominated by frondose algae (even if the species that are gaining ascendancy are of tropical origin) and not by corals as is normal in tropical seas.