Non-indigenous macroalgal species in coralligenous habitats of the Marine Protected Area Isole Ciclopi (Sicily, Italy).
Biological invasions are considered one of the main threats for biodiversity. In the last decades, more than 60 macroalgae have been introduced in the Mediterranean Sea, causing serious problems in coastal areas. Nevertheless, the impacts of alien macroalgae in deep subtidal systems have been poorly studied, especially in the coralligenous habitats of the eastern coast of Sicily (Italy). Therefore, within the framework of the programme "Progetto Operativo di Monitoraggio (P.O.M.)" of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), the aim of the present study was to gain knowledge on the alien macroalgae present in coralligenous habitats of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) Isole Ciclopi, along the Ionian coast of Sicily. By Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) videos and destructive samples analysed in the laboratory, five alien species were identified: Caulerpa cylindracea, Antithamnion amphigeneum, Asparagopsis armata, Bonnemaisonia hamifera, and Lophocladia lallemandii. Since A. amphigeneum was previously reported only in the western Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea, the present report represents the first record of this species in the eastern Mediterranean. The ROV surveys showed that the alien species do not have a high coverage and do not appear to be invasive in the coralligenous area of the MPA. Since ocean temperatures are predicted to increase as climate change continues and alien species are favoured by warming of the Mediterranean Sea, the risk of biotic homogenisation caused by the spread of alien species is realistic. Therefore, further studies are needed to assess the incidence and invasiveness of alien species in phytobenthic assemblages of coralligenous in the MPA.