Seasonal energetic constraints in Mediterranean benthic suspension feeders: effects at different levels of ecological organization


  • Rafel Coma,

  • Marta Ribes

R. Coma, Centre d'Estudis Avançats de Blanes (CSIC), Accés Cala Sant Fransesc 14, P.O. BOX 118, ES-17300 Blanes, Girona, Spain ( – M. Ribes, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, PO Box 1346, Kaneohe, Hawaii 96744, USA (present address: Institut de Ciències del Mar (CMIMA-CSIC), Pg. Marítim 37-49, ES-08003 Barcelona, Spain).


The aim of this work is to examine the role of food as a constraining factor at different levels of ecological organization in benthic littoral ecosystems. In the search for patterns in ecological systems, it has recently been documented that seasonality in the dynamics of benthic suspension feeders (BSF) in the Mediterranean Sea is characterized by summer dormancy. We review recent studies on seston availability in the water column and feeding and respiration by BSF in the Mediterranean. The objective is to assess whether a pattern across particular studies exists that could provide evidence of food as a constraining factor. A pattern emerges from these organism-level studies, one which indicates the seasonal occurrence of an energy shortage in the taxa exhibiting summer dormancy. This energy shortage is closely related to low food availability and suggests that an energetic constraint underlie the summer dormancy phenomenon. The seasonal occurrence of summer energy shortage also appears to affect the dynamics of BSF at population and community level. In this sense, in late summer 1999, a mass mortality event of BSF affected several hundreds of kilometers in the Ligurian Sea (NW Mediterranean). The fact that the mass mortality event occurred in late summer and especially affected the taxa that exhibit energy shortage – such as anthozoans and sponges – suggests, that energetic constraints may contribute to the understanding of the mass mortality event. The energy shortage phenomenon may provide a mechanism to understand how the occurrence of anomalous climatic conditions may have induced the mass mortality of some BSF taxa. This review points out the existence of a common energy shortage phenomenon mainly related to low food availability as an important determinant of the dynamics of most BSF taxa at organism level in the Mediterranean. But this determinant also affects the dynamics of BSF at population and community level. Therefore, the extant data point up the crucial role of food as a constraining factor for benthic littoral ecosystems in oligotrophic areas like the Mediterranean, with important seasonal variations in seston abundance and composition.