Understanding the Israeli Mediterranean demosponges diversity with a focus on the order Dictyoceratida

Sponges (Phylum Porifera) are among the most highly diverse and successful aquatic invertebrates. Among the sponge classes, Demospongiae is the most diverse, with 85% of living sponge species (about 6,800 species). From the ecological perspective, demosponges are important contributors to the benthic biomass. Along the Levant coast, sponges are dominant in most benthic communities and at all depths. However, the knowledge about the Mediterranean sponge fauna of Israel is very limited and not updated. The last taxonomical survey of the Israeli sponges was conducted by Tsurnamal between 1962-1967. Since then, the taxonomical position of 19 of the species identified by Tsurnamal has been revised. Moreover, it is most likely that the Israeli sponge fauna has changed during the last 50 years, since the Eastern Mediterranean coast of Israel has been subject to an extensive invasion of over 500 Indo-Pacific species. A comprehensive evaluation of the present Israeli Mediterranean sponge taxonomic diversity is needed. We here propose to collect demosponge representatives along the Mediterranean coast of Israel. We will conduct morphological and molecular identification focusing on the order Dictyoceratida. The data will serve as a national platform for future studies on sponge biodiversity, ecology, and taxonomy in Israel.