The Mediterranean Sea is a marine biodiversity hot spot highly affected by several sources of disturbances interacting synergistically: global warming, habitat loss and overfishing threaten marine biodiversity and disrupt the ecosystem balance. To ensure a sustainable management of coastal marine ecosystems according to the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries, it is necessary to study the ecosystem responses to these disturbances. However, despite the variety of global change studies in Mediterranean areas, ecosystems responses to these changes remain poorly understood and particularly at the southern part of the Mediterranean Sea. In this PhD thesis, the Gulf of Gabes was chosen as study area since it is one of the most affected regions by global change which makes it a mesocosm model of more regional patterns that occur in the Mediterranean Sea.
In this study, as a first step, we replaced the Gulf of Gabes in its biogeographic and ecosystem regional context. This was achievied through a phylogenetic-based delineation of biogeographical species pools of coastal Mediterranean fishes and using an ecosystem model to describe its structure and functioning in comparison with other Mediterranean ecosystem model properties. We therefore projected potential future geographic ranges and assemblages composition of biogeographical exploited species pool according to global warming and habitat loss scenarios. Then we assessed their effects on food web structure. To achieve this, we proposed new modelling approaches based on the concept of hierarchical filters, first to model marine species distribution at nested spatial scales and then to quantify the combined effects of climate change and habitat loss on marine species assemblages while taking into account trophic interactions. Moreover, based on a fuzzy logic framework we used the model predictions to identify areas that meet the conservation targets of the current management plan of the Gulf of Gabes.
Taking into account the taxonomy and inter-species evolutionary relationships, we generate a new bioregionalisation of the continental shelf based on the turnover of lineages. Our results showed that climate is the major driver of species distribution and assemblage’s composition. In addition, the exploration of phylogenetic dissimilarity across the Tunisian coast highlighted four major biogeographic areas showing a low spatial congruence with zoning used for fisheries management in Tunisia. Projected range shifts of the 60 main exploited species of the Gulf of Gabes through the implementation of a new climate model (NEMOMED8) revealed that, by the end of the century, 34 species could contract their ranges including 12 species that could become locally extinct across the Gulf of Gabes. Furthermore, by combining
Posidonia meadows loss scenarios and climate change projections, our results showed that the magnitudes of the changes range induced by climate change are larger than those resulting from the loss of habitat.
The Ecopath mass-balance model allowed us to describe the structure and functioning of the ecosystem of the Gulf of Gabes in comparison with other Mediterranean ecosystems. These models encompass the entire trophic spectrum from phytoplankton to higher trophic levels as well as the main fishing activities in the area. The model results showed that, among the fishing activities studied, bottom trawling was identified as the activity having the widest-ranging impacts across the different functional groups and the largest impacts on some commerciallytargeted demersal fish species. Finally, to study the effects of species range shift on food web structure, we used a new methodology to infer trophic interactions between species. Based on the robust relationship between the size of prey and predators, we predicted the current food webs and project potential changes in their structures. We found that a significant portion of the Gulf of Gabes would face an increase of connectance and an extension of trophic pathways in parallel with a decrease in the number of prey per predator and the number of predators per prey. This PhD thesis paves the way towards the understanding of the role of biodiversity in maintaining ecosystem functioning.
Keyword: Climate change, Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries, food web, Gulf of Gabes, habitat loss, hierarchical filter,Mediterranean Sea, Phylogeny, spatial scale, Species Distribution Models.