Blooms of the invasive ctenophore, Mnemiopsis leidyi, span the Mediterranean Sea in 2009
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Blooms of the invasive ctenophore, Mnemiopsis leidyi, occurred in 2009 along the Mediterranean Sea coasts of Spain and Israel. This voracious zooplanktivore spread throughout the Black Sea basin after its introduction in the early 1980s, throughout northern European coastal waters, and now occurs throughout the Mediterranean Sea. M. leidyi occurred throughout the summer along the entire Catalan Spanish and Israeli coasts in 2009. Those locations had high temperatures (18–26°C) and salinities (37–38) during the blooms. The patterns of abundance of large jellyfish along the Catalan coast were unusual in 2009, with low numbers during July, August, and September when ctenophores were abundant. Small populations of those potential predators and food competitors of M. leidyi could have contributed to the ctenophore bloom. The identity of the ctenophores from Spain and Israel was confirmed as M. leidyi by molecular analysis based on DNA sequencing of the nuclear internal transcribed spacer (ITS) regions. This is the first molecular confirmation of M. leidyi in the Mediterranean Sea. Most ctenophores had an ITS genotype previously found in M. leidyi from other invaded regions (the Black, Azov, and Mediterranean seas), as well as native regions in the United States, suggesting common ancestry. Based on the circulation patterns of Mediterranean surface waters and shipping activities, we conclude that the spread of M. leidyi in the Mediterranean probably resulted from re-introductions by ballast water transport and subsequent distribution by currents. We also conclude that the near-simultaneous blooms in opposite ends of both the Mediterranean basins indicate that M. leidyi is resident around the Mediterranean. We discuss environmental conditions, food, and predators of M. leidyi in both regions that would influence the future effects of this voracious consumer on the pelagic food web of the Mediterranean Sea.