An important challenge for conserving and managing marine ecosystems is to advance our understanding of how multiple human stressors, environmental factors and marine resources interact and influence each other. The ecosystems of the Israeli Mediterranean coast have undergone significant ecological changes in recent decades, caused primarily by the introduction of alien species, fishing and the warming of the waters.
Here we used a food-web model representing the continental shelf of the Israeli Mediterranean coast to explore the historical dynamics of the area considering the combined effect of alien species, fishing activities and changes in sea surface temperature and primary productivity. The food-web model was fitted to available time series of data from early 1990’s to 2010 using the temporal dynamic module of the Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE) modelling approach. An important challenge was to model the numerous alien species inhabiting the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, one of the most invaded marine ecosystems of the world. Historical model simulations satisfactorily matched observed data, especially regarding alien groups. However, lack of data from the pelagic environment limited our ability to compare model output with historical observations. Trophic interactions, climate change and fishing were important factors explaining the historical dynamics of the ecosystem, which showed a degradation pattern over time. Results also highlighted an increasing proportion of alien species in biomass and catch over time with important effects on the food web.
This study represents an important step forward in understanding the changes that are occurring in the Israeli continental shelf ecosystem and the Levantine Sea.