Differences in morphological, physiological and genetic traits between native and invasive populations of Halophila stipulacea

March 2017 – October 2018

Funded by: 
COST Action CA15121

Project partners:
Marine & Environmental Research (MER) Lab Ltd
Dead Sea-Arava Science Centre

Project Description:
Halophila stipulacea (Forsskål) Ascherson, 1867 is a tropical seagrass species, native to the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean. However, following the opening of the Suez Canal, this species soon became a putative Lessepian migrant, and has since become established in many parts of the Mediterranean Sea.

This project started as a Short-Term Scientific Mission (STSM) supported by the COST Action – Advancing marine conservation in the European and contiguous seas (MarCons, CA15121), and the aim to compare native populations of H. stipulacea with Lessepsian migrants and shed some light on the potential impacts of the species on the Mediterranean ecosystems.

In this project, scientists from both Cyprus (MER Research team) and Israel (Dr Gidon Winters and research team from Dead Sea-Arava Science Centre) performed reciprocal visits in Israel and Cyprus to collect samples for morphological, physiological and genetic comparisons. In addition permanent monitoring systems were set up in both regions (Eilat and Limassol respectively) and baseline data were collected. Moreover, H. stipulacea plants from Cyprus were transported into seagrass-dedicated microcosms that are available at the Dead Sea-Arava Science Center to perform common stress garden experiments with both native and invasive populations.

The two teams are now repeating the same methods on a seasonal basis to compare the two sites and increase our understanding of native and invasive meadow dynamics in the two different environments.

Furthermore, our network expanded as more scientists from Italy and Spain visited our study sites to investigate H. stipulacea and their biomes.

You can view the poster deliverable to MarCons here.