Comparative genetics of scyphozoan species reveals the geological history and contemporary processes of the Mediterranean Sea

Gur A. Mizrahi, Eli Shemesh, Avia Mizrachi, Dan Tchernov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Jellyfish are useful genetic indicators for aquatic ecosystems as they have limited mobility and are highly exposed to the water column. By using comparative genomics and the molecular clock (timetree) of Rhizostoma pulmo, we revealed a divergence point between the East and West Mediterranean Sea (MS) populations that occurred 4.59 million years ago (mya). It is suggested that the two distinct ecological environments we know today were formed at this time. We propose that before this divergence, the highly mixed Atlantic and Mediterranean waters led to the wide dispersal of different species including R. pulmo. At 4.59 mya, the Western and Eastern MS were formed, indicating the possibility of a dramatic environmental event. For the first time, we find that for the jellyfish we examined, the division of the MS in east and west is not at the Straits of Sicily as generally thought, but significantly to the east. Using genomics of the Aurelia species, we examined contemporary anthropogenic impacts with a focus on migration of scyphozoa across the Suez Canal (Lessepsian migration). Aurelia sp. is among the few scyphozoa we find in both the MS and the Red Sea, but our DNA analysis revealed that the Red Sea Aurelia sp. did not migrate or mix with MS species. Phyllorhiza punctata results showed that this species was only recently introduced to the MS as a result of anthropogenic transportation activity, such as ballast water discharge, and revealed a migration vector from Australia to the MS. Our findings demonstrate that jellyfish genomes can be used as a phylogeographic molecular tool to trace past events across large temporal scales and reveal invasive species introduction due to human activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10303-10319
Number of pages17
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Lessepsian migration
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Red Sea
  • clock tree
  • invasive species
  • jellyfish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Ecology


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