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The tropical history and future of the Mediterranean biota and the West African enigma

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Aim  Since the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, many tropical taxa from the Indo‐West Pacific (IWP) realm have entered the Mediterranean Sea, which is experiencing rising temperatures. My aims are: (1) to compare biogeographically this tropical transformation of the Mediterranean biota with the tropical faunas of the Mediterranean and adjacent southern European and West African seas during the Late Oligocene to Pliocene interval; (2) to infer the relative contributions of the tropical eastern Atlantic and IWP to the tropical component of the marine biota in southern Europe; and (3) to understand why West Africa is not now a major source of warm‐water species.

Location  Southern Europe, including the Mediterranean Sea, and the coast of tropical West Africa.

Methods  I surveyed the literature on fossil and living shell‐bearing molluscs to infer the sources and fates of tropical subgenus‐level taxa living in southern Europe and West Africa during the Late Oligocene to Pliocene interval.

Results  Ninety‐four taxa disappeared from the tropical eastern Atlantic (including the Mediterranean) but persisted elsewhere in the tropics, mainly in the IWP (81 taxa, 86%) and to a lesser extent in tropical America (36 taxa, 38%). Nine taxa inferred to have arrived in the tropical eastern Atlantic from the west after the Pliocene did not enter the Mediterranean. The modern West African fauna is today isolated from that of other parts of the marine tropics.

Main conclusions  Taxa now entering the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal are re‐establishing a link with the IWP that last existed 16 million years ago. This IWP element, which evolved under oligotrophic conditions and under a regime of intense anti‐predatory selection, will continue to expand in the increasingly warm and increasingly oligotrophic Mediterranean. The IWP source fauna contrasts with the tropical West African biota, which evolved under productive conditions and in a regime of less anti‐predatory specialization. Until now, the post‐Pliocene West African source area has been isolated from the Mediterranean by cold upwelling. If further warming should reduce this barrier, as occurred during the productive and warm Early Pliocene, the Mediterranean could become a meeting place for two tropical faunas of contrasting source conditions.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geology, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA

Publication date: 01 January 2012

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