Red to Mediterranean Sea bioinvasion: natural drift through the Suez Canal, or anthropogenic transport?


E. Geffen. Fax: 972-3-6407689; E-mail:


The biota of the eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea has experienced dramatic changes in the last decades, in part as a result of the massive invasion of Red Sea species. The mechanism generally hypothesized for the ‘Red-to-Med’ invasion is that of natural dispersal through the Suez Canal. To date, however, this hypothesis has not been tested. This study examines the mode of invasion, using as a model the mussel Brachidontes pharaonis, an acclaimed ‘Lessepsian migrant’ that thrives along the eastern Mediterranean coast. Our findings reveal two distinct lineages of haplotypes, and five possible explanations are discussed for this observation. We show that the genetic exchange among the Mediterranean, Gulf of Suez and the northern Red Sea is sufficiently large to counteract the build up of sequential genetic structure. Nevertheless, these basins are rich in unique haplotypes of unknown origin. We propose that it is historic secondary contact, an ongoing anthropogenic transport or both processes, that participate in driving the population dynamics of B. pharaonis in the Mediterranean and northern Red Sea.