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November
2016

Even during the current biodiversity crisis, reports on population collapses of highly abundant, non-harvested marine species were rare until very recently. This is starting to change, especially at the warm edge of species' distributions where populations are more vulnerable to stress. The Levant basin is the southeastern edge of distribution of most Mediterranean species. Coastal water conditions are naturally extreme, and are fast warming, making it a potential hotspot for species collapses. Using multiple data sources, I found strong evidence for major, sustained, population collapses of two urchins, one large predatory gastropod and a reef-building gastropod. Furthermore, of 59 molluscan species once-described in the taxonomic literature as common on Levant reefs, 38 were not found in the present-day surveys, and there was a total domination of non-indigenous species in molluscan assemblages. Temperature trends indicate an exceptional warming of the coastal waters in the past three decades. Though speculative at this stage, the fast rise in SST may have helped pushing these invertebrates beyond their physiological tolerance limits leading to population collapses and possible extirpations. If so, these collapses may indicate the initiation of a multi-species range contraction at the Mediterranean southeastern edge that may spread westward with additional warming.
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Multi-species collapses at the warm edge of a warming sea