CIESM Tropical Signals Program: monitoring macrodescriptor species of climate warming.

Program coordinator: Dr Paula Moschella, CIESM Officer

Brief description

The programme Tropical Signals aims to track and evaluate the effects of tropicalization of the Mediterranean Sea using reliable and representative biological macrodescriptors of climate warming. To this end an international network of 21 research teams from 15 different countries has been established to monitor over the long term of geographic shifts and changes of temperature-sensitive species across the Basin and neighbouring areas.

The main scientific objectives of the programme are to:

  • monitor the geographic expansion of native and alien “warm-water” species, and range contraction and decline of native “cold-water” species;
  • detect shifts in species depth distribution;
  • record frequency and extent of mass mortalities of marine organisms and individual species outbreaks;
  • relate the observed distributional changes to variability and trends of the hydro-climatic environment (temperature, salinity and currents) using satellite data and in situ sea measurements.

Basin scale monitoring of selected macrodescriptors of climate warming

Our Tropical Signals scientists have carefully selected a total of 86 climate macrodescriptor species (macrophytes, marine invertebrates and fish) on the basis of their sensitivity to temperature, available knowledge on past and current geographic distribution and ease of monitoring. Among the descriptors 45 species are native to the Mediterranean Sea, of which 23 of cool-water affinity and 22 of warm-water affinity. The remaining 41 species are alien species that have been introduced in the Mediterranean from the Red-Sea or the Atlantic. Some of the species included in the list have already displayed a clear response (positive or negative) to warming, such as the northward expansion of the protected coral Astroides calycularis and the wrasse Thalassoma pavo or the frequent necrosis of the gorgonians Paramuricea clavata and Eunicellasingularis. Additional biological proxies of climate warming (mass mortality events, mucilages, jellyfish blooms) are naturally included in the monitoring plan.
The full set of macrodescriptors are monitored through time by the Tropical Signals network in 45 key locations across the Basin using standard survey protocols. Questionnaire-surveys specifically tailored to fishermen and expert divers have been developed to obtain complementary information on selected species.

Tropical Signals biological network

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Sea temperature profiling in Mediterranean nearshore waters

Autonomous recording of seawater temperature in selected field sites is currently implemented by the Tropical Signals Network to monitor temperature variability and detect anomalies such as shifts in the summer thermocline depth. At each location, a set of seven micro-sensors (data loggers) will continuously record seawater temperature at 5 m intervals from 5 to 35 m depths, providing profiles at high temporal resolution. The records stored in the loggers are downloaded via a data shuttle system. 15 sets of temperature profilers will be set up in spring 2010.

Loggers in place

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Recent outputs (March 2009 to date)

  • Tropical Signals Operational Meeting (Menton, France, 6-7 March 2009). The meeting (a) finalized the selection of macrodescriptors; (b) identified the field monitoring sites; (c) defined standard survey protocols; d) planned the first basin-wide monitoring survey;
  • Macrodescriptors identification sheets (soon available on this webpage), synthesizing information on taxonomy, origin, temperature affinity, habitat, depth and geographic range and conservation status;
  • Field trials to test for feasibility of set-up operations, calibration and maintenance of sea temperature loggers.
  • Preliminary testing of subtidal and intertidal survey protocols in selected locations (a full scale testing and calibration of protocols is planned in the next months).

Tropical Signals Program media coverage (examples)


Azzurro E., Moschella P. and Maynou F., 2011.Tracking signals of change in Mediterranean fish diversity based on Local Ecological Knowledge. Plos ONE, 6(9) e24885, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024885 Download

Moschella P. and the Tropical Signals Team, 2009. The CIESM Tropicalization Programme: Tracking changes in Mediterranean biodiversity. ASLO Aquatic Science Meeting, 25-30 January 2009, Nice (France). Download

Moschella P. and the Tropical Signals Team, 2008. The new CIESM Tropicalization Programme. In: CIESM, 2008. Climate warming and related changes in Mediterranean marine biota, n° 35 in CIESM Workshop Monographs [F. Briand ed.], 152 p., Monaco, Helgoland, 27-31 May 2008. Download

The CIESM Tropical Signals institutional Network

Filipe Alberto – University of Algarve, Portugal
Chryssanthi Antoniadou / Chariton Chintiroglu – University of Thessaloniki, Greece
Ernesto Azzurro – High Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, Italy
Enric Ballesteros – Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes, Spain
Jamila Ben Souissi / Jeanne Zaouali – National Agronomical Institute of Tunisia
Ferdinando Boero – University of Salento, Italy
Marija Despalatovic / Ivana Grubelic – Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, Croatia
Bella Galil – Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research
Maria Cristina Gambi – Anton Dohrn Zoological Station, Italy
Joaquim Garrabou – Institute of Marine Sciences, Spain
Anna Occhipinti – University of Pavia, Italy
Bayram Ozturk – University of Istanbul, Turkey
Mohamed Ramdani – Scientific Institute, Morocco
Antonio Ramos Esplà – University of Alicante, Spain
Chafika Rebzani Zahaf –  University of Sciences and Technology Houari Boumédiene, Algeria
Giovanni Russo – University of Naples
Yianna Samuel-Rhoads – University of Cyprus
Patrick Schembri – University of Malta
Esmail A. Shakman – Oceanographic Branch, Tripoli University, Libya
Tarek Temraz – University of Suez Canal, Egypt
Marc Verlaque / Pierre Chevaldonné / Thierry Perez – Oceanographic Centre of Marseille, France

Relevant initiatives

The EU Project CoCoNET (Towards COast to COast NETworks of marine protected areas) investigates physical and biological connectivity between different Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas, to gain deeper understanding  of the processes influencing patterns of biodiversity distribution. 

This CIESM programme is co-financed by PRINCE ALBERT II OF MONACO FOUNDATION

In 2008 the Foundation officially signed a partnership with CIESM to support Tropical Signals. A financial contribution to the programme activities has been granted by the Foundation for a five-year period.