Historical changes of the Mediterranean Sea ecosystem: modelling the role and impact of primary productivity and fisheries changes over time
The Mediterranean Sea has been defined “under siege” because of intense pressures from multiple human activities; yet there is still insufficient information on the cumulative impact of these stressors on the ecosystem and its resources. We evaluate how the historical (1950–2011) trends of various ecosystems groups/species have been impacted by changes in primary productivity (PP) combined with fishing pressure. We investigate the whole Mediterranean Sea using a food web modelling approach. Results indicate that both changes in PP and fishing pressure played an important role in driving species dynamics. Yet, PP was the strongest driver upon the Mediterranean Sea ecosystem. This highlights the importance of bottom-up processes in controlling the biological characteristics of the region. We observe a reduction in abundance of important fish species (~34%, including commercial and non-commercial) and top predators (~41%), and increases of the organisms at the bottom of the food web (~23%). Ecological indicators, such as community biomass, trophic levels, catch and diversity indicators, reflect such changes and show overall ecosystem degradation over time. Since climate change and fishing pressure are expected to intensify in the Mediterranean Sea, this study constitutes a baseline reference for stepping forward in assessing the future management of the basin.