The two sides of man-induced changes in littoral marine communities: Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea as an example

L. Fishelson, V. Bresler, A. Abelson, L. Stone, E. Gefen, M. Rosenfeld, O. Mokady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the last two centuries, the marine life of the Eastern Mediterranean has been influenced by two major factors: one is beneficial, and concerns species migration, such as the opening of the Suez Canal, which enriched the impoverished eastern Mediterranean Sea with over 300 species of fish and invertebrates of Red Sea origin; while the other, a negative and possibly wider-reaching factor, is that of man-made pollution, which has induced unpredictable changes, destabilizing the biological world in both magnitude and duration. Initially cryptic, the effects caused by pollutants first occur at the biochemical and cellular levels of an organism, causing alterations and deviations from the normal, strongly mobilizing its defense systems. Conventional methodologies of ecological analyses, based on species and specimen numbers, cannot detect such alterations. Studying several mollusk populations from polluted and reference sites of the Red Sea and Mediterranean littoral of Israel, we used specific markers for in vivo and in vitro studies to expose the state of micronucleation; levels of defense transport systems such as membrane transport system of organic anions (SATOA) and organic cations (OCT); the state of the multi-xenobiotic resistance-mediating transporter (MXRtr). Based on fluorescent microscopy and microfluorometry, these markers offer powerful tools to expose cryptic changes in the affected populations and provide data necessary for planning and management to protect animal communities and preserve their biological diversity. Comparative analysis of general gene-expression in polluted and reference sites indicates that stress factors have differentially affected the various biological taxa and separated phenotypic sub-populations, producing a novel type of punctuated selection. Such factors, although negative in their influences, in some instances altering the qualities of organisms, and establishing alterations in their hereditary information, pre-adapt them to survive and succeed in new situations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-151
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 16 Sep 2002
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank to Naomi Paz for her editorial help, as well as the numerous students and technicians who assisted in these studies throughout the years. This study was partly financed by a grant from the German (BMBF)–Israeli Cooperation in Marine Sciences (MARS I and II).


  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Molluscs
  • Phenotypic alterations
  • Pollution
  • Red Sea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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