Quantitative studies on population dynamics and life history traits of key species are useful to predict changes in the structure and organization of biological communities. In this context, Hermodice carunculata (Pallas, 1766) is a selective scavenger/carnivore polychaete species (known as a fireworm) that, in recent years, has exhibited a northern expansion along the whole basin, including the Italian coasts, and an increasing abundance in its southern areas. Here we report ecological data and fireworm abundances from two shallow stations of the Salento peninsula in the Ionian Sea (Lecce, Italy), characterized by different hydrodynamic exposure levels and structural communities. The observed densities by visual census in the years 2019–2021 (up to 18 ind./15 m2) document a striking shift compared to the past anecdotal reports of the rare occurrence of fireworms along the studied area. Additionally, their abundance seems to be driven by the substrate coverage; in fact, a higher density of fireworms was observed where the biodiversity is richer. Results from this study will serve as a baseline reference for future investigation of the invasiveness potential of a species that can act as a biological marker of ocean warming.
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