Assessing vermetid reefs as indicators of past sea levels in the Mediterranean

G. Sisma-Ventura*, F. Antonioli, S. Silenzi, S. Devoti, P. Montagna, R. Chemello, A. Shemesh, R. Yam, R. Gehrels, S. Dean, G. Rilov, D. Sivan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The endemic Mediterranean reef building vermetid gastropods Dendropoma petraeum complex (Dendropoma spp) and Vermetus triquetrus develop bio-constructions (rims) on rocky shorelines at about Mean Sea Level (MSL) and are therefore commonly used as relative sea-level (RSL) markers. In this study, we use elevations and age data of vermetid reefs to (1) re-assess the vertical uncertainties of these biological RSL indicators, and (2) evaluate the vertical growth rates along a Mediterranean east-west transect, in attempt to explain the differences found in both growth rates and uncertainties. In Israel, Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) and laser measurements relative to the local datum show that the reef surfaces mainly occupy the upper intertidal zone with variations in elevation from +0.51 ± 0.07 m to +0.13 ± 0.05 m along the coast. However, in specific sites the vertical uncertainty exceeds the tidal range. In some places the local vermetid species D. anguliferum and V. triquetrus appear to alternate along the vertical rim profiles. This study documents a spatial variability of vertical growth rates, ranging from ~1 mm yr−1 in Israel and Crete, to ~0.1–0.2 mm yr−1 in NW Sicily and Spain. The order of magnitude of the difference in growth rates correlates with the east-west spatial thermal gradient of Sea-Surface Temperature (SST). Preferential skeleton deposition of D. petraeum and V. triquetrus measured by growth axis δ18O analysis shows that most calcification occurs at SST above the mean annual value. These findings indicate that vermetid reefs are a site-specific RSL indicator, displaying various vertical uncertainties and inner-structure complexities. Local data on the indicative range of vermetids are required when reconstructing relative sea-level changes using fossil vermetids.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106313
Number of pages11
JournalMarine Geology
Early online date1 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020 Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Bio-markers
  • Growth rates
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Past sea-level
  • Vermetid reefs

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