Trouble at the Edge of the Sea: An Ecosystem Phase-Shift on the Levant Shore

Gil Rilov

Marine Community Ecology Lab
National Institute of Oceanography

Friday, Sep. 27, 2013, 3:00pm
Chase 130

The previously Atlanto-Mediterranean dominated biota of the Levant rocky reefs is showing recent major shifts in its biodiversity. Several ecologically-important species (a vermetid gastropod, sea urchins and a large predatory snail) exhibited major population collapses along the Israeli coast while several key taxonomic groups (gastropods and bivalves and to some extent fish) are completely dominated by IndoPacific invaders. I suggest that this biogeographic shift may be partly driven by global climate change. The southeastern coastal waters of the Mediterranean have warmed by ~3OC in the past 3 decades and may have become too hot for some indigenous species and more hospitable to tropical species. Recent lab experiments indicate that the abundant sea urchin, Paracentrotus lividus, is indeed dying during peak summer SST on the Israeli coast and several other species show considerable reduction in their physiological functions (e.g., photosynthesis). These are clear indications that the reefs on the southeastern coast of the Mediterranean are in the middle of a major ecosystem phase-shift, perhaps towards a more tropical future. 


Dr. Gil Rilov is a Senior Scientist at the National Institute of Oceanography, Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, heading the Marine Community Ecology Lab. He is also a Senior Lecturer at the Marine Biology Department of Haifa University. His main research focus is on the ecology and conservation of coastal ecological communities, mainly rocky reefs. Specifically he studies biodiversity patterns and processes and how they are affected by bioinvasions, climate change and coastal development, marine protected areas, as well as benthic-pelagic coupling. Currently he mostly works on the shores of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, and also has a project that experimentally compares the effects of climate change between the Levant and Baltic shores. Recently, he started a project aimed to map seagrass beds in the northern Red Sea. He previously conducted studies on the coasts of Florida, Oregon, California, Chile, Brazil, New Zealand and South Africa. He is involved in two European projects.