Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - LRSB (Levant rocky-shore biodiversity: testing ecological impacts of climate change and bioinvasions on a unique ecosystem)

This project was set to initiate a research program on the ecology of a unique marine ecosystem on the Israeli Levant shores, the biogenic rocky-intertidal vermetid reefs, as part of the capacity building of the new Marine Community Ecology lab at IOLR led by Dr. Gil Rilov. The main focus of the work was to establish a pilot biodiversity monitoring program along the coast, and to jumpstart the research on the potential effects of climate change and bioinvasions on the ecosystem. The resulting monitoring program is extensive and included 11 sites along the shore from north-to-south that Dr. Rilov’s lab members monitor annually, and 4 sites that are monitored seasonally for both biodiversity and monthly for biophysical factors. This program has been running now for 4 years, and as a result, last year IOLR managed to get long-term funding commitment from the Ministry of Environmental Protection for continuous supporting of this monitoring program – indicating the success of the pilot project funded by the Marie Curie program. The original modest work on climate change has evolved into two major cutting-edge projects using state-ofthe art mesocosm technologies. Rilov’s lab now consists of 5 technicians and 10 graduate students, and works on 5 (nationally and internationally) funded projects.
The major findings from the project and related ones that sprung from it are: (1) high variability in community structure along the coast that slightly related to biogeography but is mostly driven by local reef characteristics (height, size, etc.) and nearshore oceanography, (2) high seasonal variability in community structure, where the highest diversity occurs during winter and spring, (3) major differences in community structure and diversity among different areas on the reef (e.g., water edge and platform center), (4) nearcomplete extirpation of the reef building vermetid gastropod Dendropoma petraeum with potential dire consequences to the structural integrity of the ecosystem and the conditions on it, (5) near extirpation of the once-abundant predatory snail Stramonita haemastoma and possibly a few algal species, (6) sea surface temperatures that are higher by 1.5-2.5 0 C than those measured two decades ago, a possible sign of climate change, (7) high sensitivity of most tested reef species to current and future peak summer seawater temperatures, which indicated that many species on this coast are already under stress due to climate change and will be at risk of population collapse in the further, and (8) the Red Sea invasive mussel Brachidontes pharaonis is very abundant on the reefs in some sites and its population is highly dynamic. This species has a very seasonal recruitment pattern (highest in the summer), and it is successful despite high predation rates on it.
As a result of these findings, the pilot monitory program has turned into a long-term national monitoring program funded by the government, and the results are presented in annual reports to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Furthermore, climate change issues have become a major focus of research in the Rilov Marine Community Ecology lab. The project’s findings have led to the successful recruitment of a range of research grants on similar topics to supplement the basic funding from the Marie Curie program. These include the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF), the German-Israel Marine Sciences Program (BMBF-MOST), and several smaller government grants. With this funding, the lab had set up innovative laboratory systems to test climate change effects (ocean acidification and increased temperature) on the reef substrate, on ecologically-important species, and on communities and their functions. These include a “minicosm” (to test effects of temperature or acidification on individual species), a “tidal-cosm” (to test the effect of sea level rise on communities), and a highly sophisticated, computer-controlled, “mesocosm” system to test the individual and combined effects of temperature and acidification on communities and their functions.

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