Thermal affinity as the dominant factor changing Mediterranean fish abundances

Or Givan, Dor Edelist, Oren Sonin, Jonathan Belmaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent decades have seen profound changes in species abundance and community composition. In the marine environment, the major anthropogenic drivers of change comprise exploitation, invasion by nonindigenous species, and climate change. However, the magnitude of these stressors has been widely debated and we lack empirical estimates of their relative importance. In this study, we focused on Eastern Mediterranean, a region exposed to an invasion of species of Red Sea origin, extreme climate change, and high fishing pressure. We estimated changes in fish abundance using two fish trawl surveys spanning a 20-year period, and correlated these changes with estimated sensitivity of species to the different stressors. We estimated sensitivity to invasion using the trait similarity between indigenous and nonindigenous species; sensitivity to fishing using a published composite index based on the species’ life-history; and sensitivity to climate change using species climatic affinity based on occurrence data. Using both a meta-analytical method and random forest analysis, we found that for shallow-water species the most important driver of population size changes is sensitivity to climate change. Species with an affinity to warm climates increased in relative abundance and species with an affinity to cold climates decreased suggesting a strong response to warming local sea temperatures over recent decades. This decrease in the abundance of cold-water-associated species at the trailing “warm” end of their distribution has been rarely documented. Despite the immense biomass of nonindigenous species and the presumed high fishing pressure, these two latter factors seem to have only a minor role in explaining abundance changes. The decline in abundance of indigenous species of cold-water origin indicates a future major restructuring of fish communities in the Mediterranean in response to the ongoing warming, with unknown impacts on ecosystem function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e80-e89
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • Mediterranean
  • biotic interactions
  • climate change
  • community ecology
  • ecological traits
  • fish
  • fishery
  • invasion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Chemistry


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