Rhodolith beds heterogeneity along the apulian continental shelf (Mediterranean sea)
RIVISTA: Journal of Marine Science and Engineering
KEYWORD: Rhodolith bed, maërl, coralline algae, rhodophyta, habitat mapping, biogenic habitats, conservation, Marine Strategy, Mediterranean Sea
Rhodolith beds represent a key habitat worldwide, from tropical to polar ecosystems. Despite this habitat is considered a hotspot of biodiversity, providing a suite of ecosystem goods and services, still scarce quantitative information is available thus far about rhodolith beds occurrence and ecological role, especially in the Mediterranean Sea. This study reports the composition and patterns of distribution of rhodolith assemblages found in four study areas along ca. 860 km of coast in the Central Mediterranean Sea. These rhodolith beds were studied for the first time and significant di differences at all spatial scales have been highlighted, documenting the high variability of this habitat. Rhodolith species composition, morphology and distribution have been discussed considering the potential role of environmental factors in driving these patterns. The need for improving their protection is discussed to complement present conservation and management initiatives, particularly in the frame of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive.