Journal article Open Access

Historical changes of the Mediterranean Sea ecosystem: modelling the role and impact of primary productivity and fisheries changes over time

Chiara Piroddi; Marta Coll; Camino Liquete; Diego Macias; Krista Greer; Joe Buszowski; Jeroen Steenbeek; Roberto Danovaro; Villy Christensen

The Mediterranean Sea has been defined “under siege” because of intense pressures from multiple human activities; yet there is still insufficient information on the cumulative impact of these stressors on the ecosystem and its resources. We evaluate how the historical (1950–2011) trends of various ecosystems groups/species have been impacted by changes in primary productivity (PP) combined with fishing pressure. We investigate the whole Mediterranean Sea using a food web modelling approach. Results indicate that both changes in PP and fishing pressure played an important role in driving species dynamics. Yet, PP was the strongest driver upon the Mediterranean Sea ecosystem. This highlights the importance of bottom-up processes in controlling the biological characteristics of the region. We observe a reduction in abundance of important fish species (~34%, including commercial and noncommercial) and top predators (~41%), and increases of the organisms at the bottom of the food web (~23%). Ecological indicators, such as community biomass, trophic levels, catch and diversity indicators, reflect such changes and show overall ecosystem degradation over time. Since climate change and fishing pressure are expected to intensify in the Mediterranean Sea, this study constitutes a baseline reference for stepping forward in assessing the future management of the basin.

This document is the accepted Authors' Copy of the paper published in Scientific Reports, 7, 44491; doi: 10.1038/ srep44491. The original manuscript was received on 22 September 2016, accepted on 08 February 2017 and published on 14 March 2017. M.C. acknowledges support by the European Commission through the Marie Curie Career Integration Grant Fellowships – PCIG10-GA-2011-303534 - to the BIOWEB project. RD, MC and JS were partially funded by the European Union's Horizon research and innovation programme grant agreement No 689518 for the MERCES project. VC acknowledges support through NSERC Discovery Grant RGPIN-2014-05782. This paper reflects only the authors' views and the funders cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained there in. Copyright © 2016. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (http:// /licenses/by/4.0/).
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