Late Quaternary evolution of Mediterranean biodiversity - A window into global change scenarios

Supervisor: Martin Zuschin in cooperation with Paolo Albano and Rafal Nawrot (all Department of Palaeontology)

Funding Situation: potentially via a VISESS PhD fellowship

Project outline: The Eastern Mediterranean marine ecosystem is undergoing a drastic transformation related to climate warming and massive invasion of tropical species from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal. The limited resilience of native communities and their susceptibility to invasion have been suggested to be directly linked to the peculiar geological and climatic setting of the basin, which was isolated from tropical areas for most of its post-Messinian history and thus inhabited by an impoverished set of warm-water species. To test this hypothesis, the project will compare changes in taxonomic and functional diversity of invertebrates and vertebrates (e.g. molluscs and fishes) between the coolest (Adriatic Sea) and warmest (Levantine Sea ) shallow shelf areas of the Mediterranean Sea across the late Quaternary climatic fluctuations using data from grab samples, sediment cores and geological outcrops. We will focus on the last ~125,000 years (the time interval from last interglacial, MIS5e to Recent), which provide past analogues to the forecasted future climate scenarios and enable quantifying natural variation of the ecosystems. Finally, given that the Red Sea is the most important source of non-indigenous species in the Mediterranean, we will quantify taxonomic and functional diversity of MIS5e and modern Northern Red Sea assemblages with the aim to predict the magnitude of the Lessepsian invasion under the hypothesis that species functionally different from native Mediterranean ones will be more likely future invaders because of competition avoidance.