Taxonomy and molecular systematics of the Ctenophore fauna along the coasts of Israel

Ctenophores are a distinct phylum of gelatinous invertebrates found in all marine environments. Currently, there are seven described orders, with most species being holoplanktonic while one order (Platyctenida) is comprised of species that are benthic as adults. To date, the assessed number of ctenophore species ranges between 100-150 and it is believed that many species still remain to be discovered, especially of the order Platyctenida. The biodiversity of ctenophore fauna in Israel has never been studied in detail and reports include only two species of pelagic ctenophores, Mnemiopsis leidyi and Beroe ovata both being invasive species to the Levantine basin of the Mediterranean. Moreover, there is no ctenophore collection available at the National Collections of Natural History in Israel. In a preliminary single survey in the Gulf of Aqaba, six new records of benthic ctenophores from the order Platyctenida, were found. This research aims to provide the first study of the biodiversity of the phylum Ctenophora in Israel. The project combines field work, classic morphological taxonomy and molecular techniques for species classification. Our study will be the first to study the genetic variation among Platyctenids. The database created will serve as an international platform for future studies on ctenophore biodiversity, ecology and taxonomy.