Biodiversity of ascidians in Eilat

Ascidians (Phylum: Chordata; Class: Ascidiacea) are a class of sessile, filter feeding invertebrates, which occur on all marine habitats around the world. The group comprises approximately 3000 species, solitary or colonial. In recent years, ascidians have gained much interest in many research fields, such as developmental biology, neurobiology, natural product chemistry and symbiosis. Despite the increasing interest, little is known about the biodiversity of this group in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba. The objectives of the proposed research are: 1) To perform a comprehensive survey of the ascidian fauna in the Gulf of Eilat, on both natural and artificial habitats, in depths ranging from 1-60m 2) To taxonomically identify all ascidians collected using morphological traits, and 3) To provide tools for future identification of ascidians using molecular tools based on DNA sequence of COI. In addition, all ascidians collected will be photographed in-situ, in order to create a digital directory of Gulf of Eilat ascidians. The proposed project will greatly contribute to the understanding of the systematics, ecology, and diversity of the ascidiacea along the Red Sea coast and will provide a much needed reliable database for future studies in this region.