, Volume 503, Issue 1–3, pp 59–67 | Cite as

Hitch-hiking on floating marine debris: macrobenthic species in the Western Mediterranean Sea

  • Stefano Aliani
  • Anne Molcard


Marine litter has been defined as solid materials of human origin discarded at sea, or reaching the sea through waterways. The effect of marine debris on wildlife, tourism and human health is well documented and there is considerable scientific literature about plastic litter in the sea and over the seabed, mostly highlighting the possible impact on marine mammals and tourism. Dispersal of marine and terrestrial organisms on floating objects has biogeographical and ecological interest. For some species, extension of their geographical range is more likely to be related to transport of mature individuals on floating rafts than to the active or passive dispersal of reproductive propagules. Variability and variety of rafting materials has increased dramatically in recent years and marine litter has been used widely as a raft by ‘hitch-hiking’ species. This paper reports on the benthic invertebrates living on marine debris transported by wind and surface currents over the western Mediterranean Sea. Plastics accounted for the major item of debris because of poor degradability, however glass, cans, fishing nets and polyurethane containers, were also found. Macro-benthos living on raft material comprised mainly molluscs, polychaetes and bryozoans. Large fish were found commonly below large plastic bags. Estimations of the distances that may be covered by hitch-hiking species and the contribution of rafting to the theoretical dispersal of species is provided.

dispersal rafting flotsam benthos Lagrangian model 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aliani, S., C. De Asmundis, R. Meloni, M. Borghini & G. P. Gasparini, 1998. Transport of benthic species in the Sicily channel: preliminary observations. In Piccazzo, M. (ed.), Atti XII Congresso Associazione Italiana Oceanologia e Limnologia: 173–182.Google Scholar
  2. Aliani, S. & R. Meloni, 1999. Dispersal strategies of benthic species and water current variability in the Corsica Channel (Western Mediterranean) Sci. mar. 63: 137–145.Google Scholar
  3. Aliani, S., A. Griffa & A. Molcard, 2003. Floating debris in the Ligurian Sea, North Western Mediterranean. Mar. Poll. Bull. 46: 1142–1149.Google Scholar
  4. Artale, V., M. Astraldi, G. Buffoni & G. P. Gasparini, 1994. Seasonal variability of the gyre-scale circulation in the Northern Tyrrhenian sea. J. Geophys. Res. 99: 14127–14137.Google Scholar
  5. Astraldi, M. & G. P. Gasparini, 1992. The seasonal characteristics of the circulation in the North Mediterranean Basin and their relationships with atmospheric climatic conditions J. Geophys. Res. 97: 9531–9540.Google Scholar
  6. Astraldi, M., C. N. Bianchi, G. P. Gasparini & C. Morri, 1995. Climatic fluctuations, current variability and marine species distribution: a case study in the Ligurian Sea (North Western Mediterranean). Oceanol. Acta 18: 139–149.Google Scholar
  7. Barnes, D. K. A., 2002. Invasions by marine life on plastic debris. Nature 416: 808–809.Google Scholar
  8. Bellan Santini, D., 1970. Salissures biologiques de substrats vierges artificiels immergés en eau pure, durant 26 mois, dans la règion deMarseille Mediterranée Nord occidentale) I. Etude qualitative. Tethys 2: 335–356.Google Scholar
  9. Boero, F. & J. Bouillon, 1993. Zoogeography and life cycle patterns of Mediterranean hydromedusae (Cnidaria). Biol. J. linn. Soc. 48: 239–266.Google Scholar
  10. Cornelius, P. F., 1992. Medusa loss in leptolid Hydrozoa (Cnidaria), hydroid rafting and abbreviated life cycles among their remoteisland faunae: an interim review. Sci. mar. 56: 245–261.Google Scholar
  11. Cowen, R. K., K. M. M. Lwiza, S. Sponaugle, C. B. Paris & D. B. Olson, 2000. Connectivity of marine populations: open or closed? Science 287: 857–859.Google Scholar
  12. Demirov, E. & Pinardi, N., 2002. Simulation of the Mediterranean Sea circulation from 1979 to 1993: Part I. The interannual variability. J. mar. Syst. (33-34): 23–50.Google Scholar
  13. De Vantier, L. M., 1992. Rafting of tropical marine organisms on buoyant coralla. Mar Ecol. Prog. Ser. 86: 301–302.Google Scholar
  14. Dufault, S. & H. Whitehead, 1994. Floating marine pollution in ‘the Gully’ on the continental slope, Nova Scotia, Canada. Mar. Poll. Bull. 28: 489–493.Google Scholar
  15. Falco, P., A. Griffa, P. M. Poulain & E. Zambianchi, 2000. Transport properties in the Adriatic Sea as deduced from drifter data. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 30: 2055–2071.Google Scholar
  16. Guppy, H. B., 1917. Plants, seeds and currents in the West Indies and Azores. Williams and Norgate. London 1: 531.Google Scholar
  17. Highsmith, R. C., 1985. Floating and algal rafting as potential dispersal mechanisms in brooding invertebrates. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 25: 169–179.Google Scholar
  18. Jackson, J. B. C., 1986. Modes of dispersal of clonal benthic invertebrates: consequences for species' distribution and genetic structure of local populations. Bull. mar. Sci. 39: 588–606.Google Scholar
  19. Johannesson, K., 1988. The paradox of Rockhall, why is a brooding gastropod (Littorina saxatilis) more widespread than one having a planktonic larval dispersal stage (L. littorea)? Mar. Biol. 99: 507–513.Google Scholar
  20. Jokiel, P. L., 1989. Rafting of reef corals and other organisms at Kwajalein Atoll. Mar. Biol. 101: 483–493.Google Scholar
  21. Lecke-Mitchell, K. & K. Mullin, 1992. Distribution and abundance of large floating marine plastic in the north-central gulf of Mexico. Mar. Poll. Bull. 24: 598–601.Google Scholar
  22. Mc Coy, F., 1988. Floating megalitter in the Eastern Mediterranean. Mar. Poll. Bull. 19: 25–28.Google Scholar
  23. Mileikovski, S. A., 1971. Types of larval development in marine bottom invertebrates, their distribution and ecological significance, a re-evaluation. Mar. Biol. 10: 193–213.Google Scholar
  24. Morri, C. & C. N. Bianchi, 2001. Recent changes in biodiversity in the Ligurian Sea (NW Mediterranean): is there a climatic forcing? In Faranda, F. M., L. Guglielmo & G. Spezie (eds), Mediterranean Ecosystems: Structures and Processes. Springer Verlag: 375–385.Google Scholar
  25. Nimmo Smith, W. A.M. & S. A. Thorpe, 1999. Dispersion of buoyant material by Langmuir circulation and a tidal current. Mar. Poll. Bull. 9: 824–829.Google Scholar
  26. Ralph, P. M., 1961. New Zealand Thecate hydroids. Part V. The distribution of the New Zealand Thecate hydroids. Trans. Roy. Soc. N. Z. (Zool. ser.). 1: 103–111.Google Scholar
  27. Rees, G. & K. Pond, 1995. Marine litter monitoring programmes - a review of methods with special reference to national surveys. Mar. Poll. Bull. 30: 103–108.Google Scholar
  28. Relini, G., 1976. Fouling on different material immersed at a depth of 200 m in the Ligurian Sea. Proc. 4th Int. Congr. On Marine Corrosion. Juan les Pins: 431–443.Google Scholar
  29. Relini, G., C. N. Bianchi, G. Diviacco & R. Rosso, 1977. Fouling di alcune piattaforme offshore dei mari italiani VI: Anfipodi e Policheti. Boll. Mus. Ist. Biol. Univ. Genova 45: 105–121.Google Scholar
  30. Relini, G., M. Relini & M. Montanari, 2000. An offshore buoy as a small artificial island and a fish-aggregating device (FAD) in the Mediterranean. Hydrobiologia 40: 65–80.Google Scholar
  31. Risken, H., 1989. The Fokker-Planck Equation: Methods of Solutions and Applications. Springer-Verlag 1: 472.Google Scholar
  32. Rupolo, V., 1993. Studio delle caratteristiche principali della circolazione del mar Tirreno attraverso l'analisi di dati lagrangiani e la formulazione di un modello. Tesi di Laurea Università La Sapienza, Roma.Google Scholar
  33. Scheltema, R. S., 1986. Alternative modes of dispersal. Bull. mar. Sci. 39: 310–312.Google Scholar
  34. Scheltema, R. S., 1988. Initial evidence for the transport of teleplanic larvae of benthic invertebrates across the East Pacific barrier. Biol. Bull. 174: 145–152.Google Scholar
  35. Scheltema, R. S., 1989. In Reproduction, genetics and distribution of marine organisms. In Ryland, J. S. & P. A. Tyler (eds), Olsen and Olsen Holdstedvj, Denmark: 186–187.Google Scholar
  36. Thompson, D. J., 1987: Criteria for the selection of stochastic models of particle trajectories in turbulent flows. J. Fluid Mech. 180: 529–556.Google Scholar
  37. Thorson, G., 1950. Reproduction and larval ecology of marine bottom invertebrates. Biol. Rev. 25: 1–45.Google Scholar
  38. Toonen, R. J. & J. R. Pawlik, 1994. Foundations of gregariousness. Nature 370: 511–512.Google Scholar
  39. Tursi, A., A. Matarrese, L. Scalera Liaci, G. Costantino, R. Cavallo & E. Cecere, 1985. Colonizzazione di substrati duri artificiali immersi in una biocenosi coralligena ed in un posidonieto. Oebalia 11: 401–416.Google Scholar
  40. Worchester, S. E., 1994. Adults vs larval swimming: dispersal and recruitment of a botryllid ascidian on eelgrass. Mar. Biol. 121: 309–317.Google Scholar
  41. Zibrowius, H., 1983. Extension de l'aire de repartition favorisee par l'homme chez les invertebres marins. Oceanis 9: 337–353.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefano Aliani
    • 1
  • Anne Molcard
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.CNR, Istituto Scienze Marine - Sezione La Spezia, Forte Santa TeresaPozzuolo di Lerici (SP)Italy
  2. 2.RSMAS-MPO University of MiamiMiamiU.S.A

Personalised recommendations