Endemic and Indo-Pacific plankton in the Mediterranean Sea: A study based on dinoflagellate records

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Courtesy of Planktonlab


To investigate biogeographical patterns based on published dinoflagellate records from the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and to provide a tentative list of endemic and Indo-Pacific dinoflagellates in the Mediterranean Sea.  Location Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea.
Methods Checklists of dinoflagellates of the Mediterranean and Black Seas were compared with worldwide literature records. Only species reported in the Indo-Pacific Ocean or exclusively known in the Mediterranean Sea were selected for biogeographical analysis.


Dinoflagellates in the Mediterranean Sea comprised c. 43% of the world marine species and c. 88% of the dinoflagellate genera. Species richness among the Mediterranean sub-basins showed marked differences due to the less reliable records of unarmoured (athecate) and rare dinoflagellates. These differences disappeared when only the more easily identifiable taxa were considered. Of the 673 dinoflagellates cited in the Mediterranean, 87% were also reported in the Atlantic Ocean. Only 40 taxa (6% of the total) were considered to be potential Indo-Pacific species. Most were reported from the Ligurian Sea (21), and only two species from the Levantine basin. The other 48 taxa (7% of total) were known exclusively from the Mediterranean Sea, mainly from the Ligurian Sea. Half of these taxa were reported by a single author.

Main conclusions

Substantial dinoflagellates species richness can be attributed, in part, to the historical tradition of taxonomic studies in the Mediterranean Sea.  The list of species of both Indo-Pacific and exclusively Mediterranean species included taxa of dubious taxonomic validity or that were insufficiently known.  The exclusion of these questionable taxa revealed the near absence of endemic dinoflagellates in the Mediterranean Sea compared with macroscopic organisms.  This could be related to: (1) continuous replenishment of the plankton populations by the inflow of Atlantic water through the Strait of Gibraltar, (2) the possibility that species introduced during the Pliocenic flooding after the Messinian salinity crisis have not had enough time to diverge from their Atlantic ancestors, and/or (3) the reliance on traditional taxonomy based on morphological characters, which precludes the detection of cryptic speciation.

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