Anthropogenic impacts on marine ecosystems have led to a decline of biodiversity across the oceans, threatening invaluable ecosystem services on which we depend. Ecological temporal data to track changes in diversity are relatively rare, and the few long-term datasets that exist often only date back a few decades or less. Here, we use eDNA taken from dated sediment cores to investigate changes over approximately the last 100 years of metazoan communities in native (Cymodocea nodosa and Posidonia oceanica) and exotic (Halophila stipulacea) seagrass meadows within the eastern Mediterranean Sea, at two locations in Greece and two in Cyprus. Overall, metazoan communities showed a high turnover of taxa during the past century, where losses of individual taxa in a seagrass meadow were compensated by the arrival of new taxa, probably due to the arrival of exotic species introduced in the Mediterranean Sea from the Suez Canal or the Gibraltar Strait. Specifically, bony fishes (Class Actinopteri) and soft corals (Class Anthozoa) presented significantly higher richness in the past (before the 1980s) than in the most recent time periods (from 1980–2017) and some Cnidarian orders were solely found in the past, whereas sponges and Calanoids (Class Hexanauplia), an order of copepods, showed an increase in richness since the 1980s. Moreover, the Phyla Porifera, Nematoda and the Classes Staurozoa, Hydrozoa and Ophiuroidea were detected in P. oceanica meadows but not in C. nodosa and H. stipulacea, which led to P. oceanica meadows having twice the richness of other seagrasses. The greater richness resulted from the more complex habitat provided by P. oceanica. The combination of eDNA and sediment cores allowed us to reconstruct temporal patterns of metazoan community diversity and provides a novel approach to follow natural communities back in time in the absence of time series and baseline data. The ongoing loss of P. oceanica meadows, likely to be compounded with future warming, might lead to a major loss of biodiversity and the replacement by other seagrass species, whether native or exotic, does not compensate for the loss.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecological Modeling
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Nature and Landscape Conservation