Biodiversity & Conservation

Dense Lanice conchilega and other polychaetes in tide-swept infralittoral sand



Image Bernard Picton - Dense Lanice conchilega and other polychaetes in tide-swept infralittoral sand. Image width ca 7 cm
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Distribution map

SS.SCS.ICS.SLan recorded (dark blue bullet) and expected (light blue bullet) distribution in Britain and Ireland (see below)

  • EC_Habitats
  • UK_BAP

For a list of 2004 characterising species please see the JNCC website.

Species indicative of sensitivity

To assess the sensitivity of the biotope, the sensitivity of component species is reviewed. Those species that are considered to be particularly indicative of the sensitivity of the biotope, and for which research has been undertaken in detail are shown below (see selection criteria). The biology of other component species of the biotope is also taken into account wherever information is known to the researcher.

Species found especially in this biotope

  • Lanice conchilega
Community Importance Species name Common Name
Key structural Lanice conchilega Sand mason worm
Important characterizing Arenicola marina Blow lug
Important other Abra alba A bivalve mollusc


Lanice conchilega is the dominant polychaete within the biotope. It qualifies as an 'ecosystem engineer' in that it changes and/or creates a habitat, which affects other organisms (Jones et al., 1994; 1997). The tubes of Lanice conchilega, protruding 2-3 cm above the sediment surface, strongly affect the hydrodynamic regime in the benthic boundary layer and thus the distribution of co-occurring biota (see ecological interactions and habitat complexity) (e.g. Eckman et al., 1981; Eckman, 1985; Carey, 1983, 1987; Zühlke et al., 1998; Zühlke, 2001). Loss or reduction of the Lanice conchilega population would probably result in loss of the biotope as described and the species has been assessed to be a key structuring species. The biotope is also characterized by a number of polychaete species, therefore, Arenicola marina has been included as an important characterizing species but reference has also been made to other polychaetes species where possible. The sensitivity of bivalve species has been represented by Abra alba which can be common in this biotope.

Additional information

The MNCR recorded ca 613 species within this biotope, although not all species occur in all examples of the biotope (JNCC, 1999). Connor et al (1997b) noted that this biotope may consist of a number of separate communities. Although the density of Lanice conchilega is the characteristic feature of the biotope, community composition probably varies with location, the degree of detritus and nutrient input and the local hydrographic regime, resulting in the high number of species recorded in this biotope.

This review can be cited as follows:

Budd, G.C. 2006. Dense Lanice conchilega and other polychaetes in tide-swept infralittoral sand. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 30/11/2015]. Available from: <>