Mesophotic assemblages are the next frontier of marine exploration in the Mediterranean Sea. Located below recreational scuba diving depths, they are difficult to access but host a diverse array of habitats structured by large invertebrate species. The Eastern Mediterranean has been much less explored than the western part of the basin and its mesophotic habitats are virtually unknown. We here describe two mesophotic (77–92 m depth) molluscan assemblages at a rocky reef and on a soft substrate off northern Israel. We record 172 species, of which 43 (25%) are first records for Israel and increase its overall marine molluscan diversity by 7%. Only five of these species have been reported in recent surveys of the nearby Lebanon, suggesting that our results are robust at a broader scale than our study area and that the reported west-to-east declining diversity gradient in the Mediterranean needs a reappraisal based on proper sampling of the eastern basin. We found only four (2%) non-indigenous species, represented by seven (0.5%) specimens. These results suggest that pristine native assemblages still thrive at this depth in Israel, in contrast to the shallow subtidal heavily affected by global warming and biological invasions, calling for strong conservation actions for these valuable but vulnerable habitats.
Israel - Mediterranean Sea
Dredging / trawling