The Bryozoa at the Mediterranean coasts of Israel

Schizoporella errata

Schizoporella errata

The phylum Bryozoa is comprised of sessile colonial aquatic invertebrates that can be found mainly in marine environments. It consists of approximately 6000 living species with new taxa being described annually, and at least double that number exists in fossils. Due to their calcitic skeleton some bryozoans are significant rock-formers, contributing to substrate complexity and therefore influence the biodiversity of their habitat. Bryozoans form an important part of fouling community, and create great nuisance by fouling on artificial marine structures as well.

Despite its great ecological importance, the Bryozoa fauna along the Israeli coasts is poorly known. The eastern Mediterranean is a major host for alien species and yet only one survey, in 1969, examined for alien Indo-Pacific bryozoans. At the Zoological collections of Tel–Aviv University there are 54 species from the Mediterranean coast of Israel, collected during the 1960's and 1970's. In the years since those collections the taxonomy of Bryozoa has evolved, mainly due to scanning electron microscopy and molecular techniques. The lack in up to date data of this phylum in the Israeli marine environment raises the need for new research, especially in the Mediterranean, where biodiversity is exposed to anthropologically induced changes.

During 2009-2010, 56 samples of Bryozoa were collected from hard substrates in a variety of locations from Rosh-Hanikra to Ashkelon. So far 23 species were identified belonging to 17 different families. The species were scanned with Environmental scanning electron microscope with the collaboration of Dr. Paul Taylor from the Natural History Museum in London. The bryozoans Drepanophora sp. was recorded for the first time from the Mediterranean and is suspected to be Lessepsian migrant. Twelve other species were first recorded from the coasts of Israel among them 2 species,Thalamoporella harmelini and Schizoretepora hassi have recently been described from Lebanon.