Tropical seagrass Halophila stipulacea shifts thermal tolerance during Mediterranean invasion

by Marlene Wesselmann, Andrea Anton, Carlos M. Duarte, Iris E. Hendriks, Susana Agustí, Ioannis Savva, Eugenia T. Apostolaki, Nuria Marba
Research article Year: 2020 DOI:


Wesselmann, M., Anton, A., Duarte, C. M., Hendriks, I. E., Agustí, S., Savva, I., ... & Marbà, N. (2020). Tropical seagrass Halophila stipulacea shifts thermal tolerance during Mediterranean invasion. Proceedings of the Royal Society B287(1922), 20193001.


Exotic species often face new environmental conditions that are different from those that they are adapted to. The tropical seagrass Halophila stipulacea is a Lessepsian migrant that colonized the Mediterranean Sea around 100 years ago, where at present the minimum seawater temperature is cooler than in its native range in the Red Sea. Here, we tested if the temperature range in which H. stipulacea can exist is conserved within the species or if the exotic populations have shifted their thermal breadth and optimum due to the cooler conditions in the Mediterranean. We did so by comparing the thermal niche (e.g. optimal temperatures, and upper and lower thermal limits) of native (Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea) and exotic (Greece and Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea) populations of H. stipulacea. We exposed plants to 12 temperature treatments ranging from 8 to 40°C for 7 days. At the end of the incubation period, we measured survival, rhizome elongation, shoot recruitment, net population growth and metabolic rates. Upper and lower lethal thermal thresholds (indicated by 50% plant mortality) were conserved across populations, but minimum and optimal temperatures for growth and oxygen production were lower for Mediterranean populations than for the Red Sea one. The displacement of the thermal niche of exotic populations towards the colder Mediterranean Sea regime could have occurred within 175 clonal generations.