Capitella capitata in enriched sublittoral muddy sediments

23-06-2009
Researched byJacqueline Hill & Jaret Bilewitch Refereed byThis information is not refereed.
EUNIS CodeA5.336 EUNIS NameCapitella capitata in enriched sublittoral muddy sediments

Summary

UK and Ireland classification

EUNIS 2008A5.336Capitella capitata in enriched sublittoral muddy sediments
EUNIS 2006A5.336Capitella capitata in enriched sublittoral muddy sediments
JNCC 2004SS.SMu.ISaMu.CapCapitella capitata in enriched sublittoral muddy sediments
1997 BiotopeSS.IMS.FaMS.CapCapitella capitata in enriched sublittoral muddy sediments

Description

Capitella capitata represents a complex of opportunistic polychaete species especially associated with organically enriched and polluted sediments (Warren, 1977; Pearson & Rosenberg 1978) where members may be superabundant. Although more widely occurring, when these species occur in high numbers and the overall species richness of the habitat is considerably reduced, the sediments are invariably anoxic and often have a very high organic load. Nematodes, Tubificoides spp., Pygospio elegans and Malacoceros fuliginosus may also survive in this habitat, but rarely in anything but comparatively low numbers. This biotope may also occur to some extent in the intertidal. IMS.Cap may become established as a result of anthropogenic activities such as fish farming and sewerage effluent but may also occur with natural enrichment as a result of, for example, coastal bird roosts. Capitella capitata may also occur in high numbers in estuaries (see IMU.CapTub), but this may be a result of competitive refuge rather than organic enrichment (Wolff, 1973). (Information taken from the Marine Biotope Classification for Britain and Ireland, Version 97.06: Connor et al., 1997a, b).

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Recorded around the coasts of Shetland and Orkney Isles.

Depth range

-

Additional information

None entered

Listed By

Further information sources

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JNCC

Habitat review

Ecology

Ecological and functional relationships

  • Capitella capitata represents a complex (Grassle & Grassle, 1976) of over ten sibling species (Gemenick & Giere, 1997) which are likely to be present in the biotope. While the species of this complex show only slight differences in adult morphology, they differ widely in ontogenetic, ecological and genetic features (Gamenick & Giere, 1997) and have distinct reproductive modes (Grassle & Grassle, 1976).
  • Capitella capitata has been recorded in high numbers in areas of organic enrichment, where sewage inputs (Bridges, 1996; Holte & Oug, 1996; Cardell et al., 1998, Thom & Chew, 1979) and fish farms (Karakassis et al., 2000) were present. It has also been recorded in areas where sediments contain high concentrations of metals and hydrocarbons (Ward & Young, 1982; Olsgard, 1999; Petrich & Reish, 1979). The species is commonly cited as an indicator of organic enrichment, although members of the species complex vary in their response to disturbance and environmental change.
  • The conditions in which Capitella capitata flourishes are not tolerated by many other organisms. Thus, when members of the species complex occur in high densities few other species will be present.
  • Capitella capitata is also found in organically poor areas (Eagle & Rees, 1973) although it is unlikely to be present in such high abundance in these habitats because of competition from other species. Capitella capitata is a complex of opportunistic species with life history traits that enable them to rapidly colonize vacant and disturbed habitats. Thus, in areas of high disturbance, by regular dredging for instance, Capitella capitata may be present.
  • Lugworms have been found to have a strongly negative effect on the juvenile densities of Capitella capitata (Flach, 1991).

Seasonal and longer term change

  • Although annual variations in the composition of cryptic species within the Capitella capitata complex have been documented (Grassle & Grassle, 1976), very little information has been found on seasonal or temporal changes in overall Capitella capitata populations.
  • Differences, sometimes distinctly seasonal, may be observed in the breeding period of Capitella capitata according to variation in local conditions, especially temperature, organic enrichment of the sediment and population density. For example, Mendez et al. (1997) suggest that Capitella capitata is able to produce many individuals when organic supply is high enough to feed all the population. However, variation in reproductive output is also likely to be determined by differences in composition of the Capitella capitata species complex, as members are known to differ in fecundity, larval dispersal ability and general abundance (Grassle & Grassle, 1978).
  • In the sheltered conditions in which the biotope is found it is unlikely that winter weather disturbance is likely to have an impact on population demographics.

Habitat structure and complexity

  • The biotope has very little structural complexity with Capitella capitata, and the few other species that may be present, living in or on the sediment.
  • Deposit feeders manipulate, sort and process sediment particles and may result in destabilization and bioturbation of the sediment which inhibits survival of suspension feeders.

Productivity

Productivity in IMS.Cap is mostly secondary, derived from detritus and organic material. Macroalgae are absent from the biotope. The biotope occurs in nutrient rich areas, for example, close to sewage outfalls. Allochthonous organic material is derived from anthropogenic activity (e.g. sewerage) and natural sources (e.g. plankton, detritus). Autochthonous organic material is formed by benthic microalgae (microphytobenthos e.g. diatoms and euglenoids) and heterotrophic micro-organism production. Organic material is degraded by micro-organisms and the nutrients are recycled. Productivity in the biotope is expected to be high. Many of the characterizing species are likely to have a short life span, grow to maturity quickly and have multiple generations per year. Mendez et al. (1997) suggested that Capitella capitata is able to produce many individuals when organic supply is high enough to feed all the population, although the ability and timescale of response varies among members of the species complex (Grassle & Grassle, 1978).

Recruitment processes

  • Warren (1976) noted that spawning of Capitella capitata occurred throughout the year in Plymouth, with all oocytes being released at a single spawning. Warren (1976) also noted that oocytes are not released into the coelomic fluid until almost fully developed and that larval development may have been completely benthonic. However, in the USA another variant of the Capitella capitata complex, Capitella species 1, has been shown to have planktonic larval development for a short time (hours to days) before settlement (Grassle & Grassle, 1974). Generally speaking, this species is considered to be iteroparous, and the larvae are brooded during part of their development within the adult tube.
  • Planas & Mora (1989) have calculated that individuals from the northwest of Spain spend 2-4 weeks to change from eggs to the juvenile stage and about 3 months from juveniles to adults.
  • Studies on natural populations of Capitella capitata in England show that sexual maturity is reached at about 4 months (Warren, 1976). However, in other geographical locations, sexual maturity may be reached at 3.5 months (Qian & Chia, 1994).
  • Capitella species 1 larvae were attracted by a sulphide concentration of 0.1mm to 1.0mm, yielding higher settlement, subsequent metamorphosis and survival of settled polychaetes compared with non-sulphidic controls (Cuomo, 1985).

Time for community to reach maturity

A Capitella capitata biotope is likely to reach maturity very rapidly because the species of the complex are short lived, reaching maturity within about four months. Capitella capitata has an opportunistic life history and year round breeding. Bolam & Fernandes (2002) and Shull (1997) noted that Capitella capitata can colonize azoic sediments rapidly in relatively high numbers. Shull (1997) also demonstrated that this occurs by larval settlement, bedload transport and by burrowing. Thus, when conditions are suitable, the time for the community to reach maturity is likely to be less than six months.

Additional information

None

Preferences & Distribution

Recorded distribution in Britain and IrelandRecorded around the coasts of Shetland and Orkney Isles.

Habitat preferences

Depth Range
Water clarity preferences
Limiting Nutrients Not relevant
Salinity
Physiographic
Biological Zone
Substratum
Tidal
Wave
Other preferences

Additional Information

None

Species composition

Species found especially in this biotope

    Rare or scarce species associated with this biotope

    -

    Additional information

    None

    Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

    Explanation

    Since no or very few other species are present in the biotope, and without it the biotope would not exist, the sensitivity of Capitella capitata is representative of the whole biotope.

    Species indicative of sensitivity

    Community ImportanceSpecies nameCommon Name
    Important characterizingCapitella capitataA bristle worm

    Physical Pressures

     IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivitySpecies RichnessEvidence/Confidence
    High Very high Low Decline High
    Removal of the substratum, perhaps by dredging, would result in the loss of Capitella capitata, and any other species that may be present, and hence the loss of the biotope so intolerance is assessed as high. Recovery is likely to be very high - see additional information below.
    Tolerant Not relevant Not relevant No change Moderate
    As an infaunal burrowing species Capitella capitata will be unaffected by smothering by a 5 cm layer of sediment because the species thrives in, and often creates, thick muds. Therefore, the biotope is not sensitive to the factor. However, smothering by impermeable materials, such as concrete, oil, or tar, are likely to have a greater effect.
    Tolerant Not relevant Not relevant No change High
    As Capitella capitata is a sub-surface deposit feeder, changes in suspended sediment concentration at the benchmark level are unlikely to have any adverse effect. Therefore, the biotope is probably not sensitive to the factor.
    Low Very high Moderate No change High
    A decrease in suspended sediment concentration may result in reduced food supply, due to less available organic particles and detritus. However, at the level of the benchmark impacts are not likely to be significant and intolerance has been assessed as low. On return to normal conditions recoverability is likely to be very high.
    Low Very high Very Low No change High
    Due to the infaunal position of the polychaete, adults are protected from desiccation. This biotope may also occur to some extent in the intertidal. However, survival of larvae may be inhibited. Nevertheless, intolerance has been assessed to be low. Recoverability is likely to be very high (see additional information below).
    Intermediate Very high Low No change High
    Due to the infaunal position of the polychaete, adults are protected from increased emergence. This biotope may also occur to some extent in the intertidal so can tolerate a degree of emergence. However, survival of larvae may be inhibited. Intolerance has been assessed to be intermediate. Recoverability is likely to be very high (see additional information below).
    Tolerant Not sensitive* No change High
    Capitella capitata is generally sublittoral and so the biotope is unlikely to be exposed to a decrease in emergence.
    High Very high Low Decline Low
    There is no information regarding the water flow rates in which the biotope is found. However, it is likely that water flow would be fairly low since, in high flow rates, the nature of the substratum would be coarse sediment particles as the smaller muddy fraction is washed away. Therefore, the biotope is expected to be intolerant of increases in water flow and a rank of high, but with low confidence, is recorded. On return to normal conditions recovery is likely to be rapid - see additional information below.
    Not sensitive* Not relevant Moderate
    There is no information regarding the water flow rates in which the biotope is found. However, it is likely that water flow would be fairly low since muddy sediments are more likely to be found in these conditions. A decrease in suspended sediment concentration may result in reduced food supply, due to less available organic particles and detritus. However, intolerance has been assessed as low because any impacts of a decrease in water flow rate are likely to be sub-lethal only. Recoverability is likely to be very high, on return to normal conditions.
    Low Very high Very Low No change High
    Capitella capitata occurs south of the British Isles and will therefore be subject to greater temperatures. The species has also been recorded around hydrothermal vents (Gamenick & Giere, 1997) which suggests that the species complex would be relatively tolerant to an increase in temperature. Effects of combinations of varying salinities and temperature on Capitella capitata were carried out by Redman (1985; summary only). Under experimental regimes, length of life decreased as follows: 59 weeks at mid-temperature and salinity (15°C, 25ppt); 43 weeks at high temperature & high salinity (18°C, 30ppt); 33 weeks at lower temperature & high salinity (12°C, 30ppt); 17 weeks at high temperature & low salinity (18°C, 20ppt). Redman (1985) also found that net reproduction (Ro: the mean number of offspring produced per female at the end of the cohort) decreased as follows: 41.75 control; 36.69 under high salinity, high temperature; 2.19 high temperature, low salinity; 2.16 low temperature, high salinity. Therefore, a combination of changes in temperature and salinity may decrease the viability of the population. Intolerance to increased temperature has been assessed to be low. On return to normal levels, recoverability is likely to be very high (see additional information below).
    Low Very high Moderate No change High
    Capitella capitata occurs north of the British Isles and will therefore be subject to lower temperatures suggesting that the species complex would be relatively tolerant to a decrease in temperature. Effects of combinations of varying salinities and temperature on Capitella capitata were carried out by Redman (1985). At lower temperature and salinities (12°C, 20ppt) very few individuals survived. Under other experimental regimes, length of life decreased as follows: 59 weeks at mid-temperature and salinity (15°C, 25ppt); 43 weeks at high temperature & high salinity (18°C, 30ppt); 33 weeks at low temperature & high salinity (12°C, 30ppt); 17 weeks at high temperature & low salinity (18°C, 20ppt). Redman (1985) also found that net reproduction (Ro: the mean number of offspring produced per female at the end of the cohort) decreased as follows: 41.75 control; 36.69 under high salinity, high temperature; 2.19 high temperature, low salinity; 2.16 low temperature, high salinity. Therefore a combination of changes in temperature and salinity may decrease the viability of the population. No other information on the affect of low temperatures on Capitella capitata was found however, since the species is found in waters north of Britain intolerance is expected to be low. On return to normal levels, recoverability is likely to be very high (see additional information below).
    Low Very high Very Low No change High
    The biotope is a faunal assemblage so the light attenuation effects of an increase in turbidity would not significantly affect the community. Nevertheless, primary production by pelagic phytoplankton and microphytobenthos do contribute to benthic communities and so long term increases in turbidity may reduce the overall organic input to the detritus. Reduced food supply may affect growth rates and fecundity of some species in the biotope. However, at the level of the benchmark effects are not likely to be significant and a rank of low intolerance is reported. On return to normal turbidity levels recovery will be very high as food availability returns to normal. The impacts on deposit feeding are addressed under 'suspended sediment' above.
    Tolerant Not sensitive* No change High
    The biotope is a faunal assemblage so the light attenuation effects of a decrease in turbidity would not significantly affect the community. Nevertheless, primary production by pelagic phytoplankton and microphytobenthos do contribute to benthic communities and so a long term decrease in turbidity may increase the overall organic input to the detritus. However, since the biotope occurs in organically enriched habitats the impact of changes in primary production is likely to be insignificant and a rank of not sensitive is recorded. Reduced food supply may affect growth rates and fecundity of some species in the biotope. However, at the level of the benchmark effects are not likely to be significant and a rank of low intolerance is reported. On return to normal turbidity levels recovery will be very high as food availability returns to normal. A rank of not sensitive is recorded. The impacts on deposit feeding are addressed under 'suspended sediment' above.
    High Very high Low Decline Moderate
    The biotope occurs in sheltered locations and is likely to be intolerant of an increase in wave exposure. Increased wave action would re-suspend the sediment increasing oxygenation and maybe changing the nature of the substratum as fine particles are washed away. Capitella capitata thrives in conditions of high nutrients and moderate hypoxia so anything that reduces these factors may allow other species to colonize the area and out-compete it.
    Not sensitive* Not relevant Moderate
    The biotope normally occurs in locations that are extremely sheltered from wave action so a further decrease is considered to be not relevant.
    Tolerant Not relevant Not relevant No change High
    Capitella capitata may be able to detect vibration, and withdraw into their burrow, reducing the amount of time available for feeding. However, at the benchmark level the species is unlikely to be sensitive to noise and so the biotope is assessed as not sensitive.
    Tolerant Not relevant Not relevant No change High
    Capitella capitata may be able to detect shadows, however, at the benchmark level the species is unlikely to be sensitive to visual presence and so the biotope is assessed as not sensitive.
    Intermediate Very high Low No change Moderate
    The infaunal nature of Capitella capitata may offer some protection from abrasion. Bonsdorff & Pearson (1997) found that sediment disturbance forced the polychaete deeper into the sediment, although the species was able to burrow back through the sediment to the surface again. However, the polychaete burrows close to the sediment surface and has a fragile body that may be easily damaged by the impact of an anchor or mobile fishing gear. Intolerance has been assessed as intermediate. Recoverability is likely to be very high (see additional information below).
    Low Very high Very Low No change High
    Shull (1997) demonstrated that Capitella capitata colonizes areas by bedload transport, among other methods. Therefore, if Capitella capitata is displaced onto suitable substrata it is likely to be able to form a new burrow. However, during this period the species will be exposed to greater risks of predation and so intolerance to displacement has been assessed to be low. Recoverability is likely to be very high.

    Chemical Pressures

     IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityRichnessEvidence/Confidence
    Low Very high Very Low No change High
    Capitella capitata is an opportunist especially associated with organically enriched and polluted sediments (Warren, 1977; Pearson & Rosenberg, 1978). The species often thrives in polluted conditions so the biotope is not likely to be especially intolerant of the factor. However, Capitella capitata may not be able to tolerate all synthetic chemicals and so an intolerance rank of low is reported.
    Heavy metal contamination
    Low Very high Very Low No change High
    Experimental studies with various species suggests that polychaete worms are quite tolerant to heavy metals (Bryan, 1984). High numbers of Capitella capitata have been recorded in areas containing high metal concentrations (Petrich & Reish, 1979; Ward & Young, 1982; Rygg, 1985; Olsgard, 1999), although abundance of Capitella capitata in Norway has also been noted to have a significant negative correlation between sediment content of Cu and abundance of the species with an obvious reduction in abundance at approximately 900 ppm Cu (Olsgard, 1999). Some impacts on population size and reproduction of Capitella capitata as a result of metal pollution, both in the field and the laboratory, have been observed. Refer to the Capitella capitata species review for full details. However, the species does appear to tolerate high metal concentrations, and so intolerance has been assessed to be low. On return to normal conditions recoverability is likely to be very high.
    Hydrocarbon contamination
    Tolerant* Not relevant Not sensitive* No change High
    Suchanek (1993) reviewed the effects of oil spills on marine invertebrates and concluded that, in general, on soft sediment habitats, infaunal polychaetes, bivalves and amphipods were particularly affected. However, high numbers of Capitella capitata have been recorded in hydrocarbon contaminated sediments (Ward & Young, 1982; Olsgard, 1999; Petrich & Reish, 1979) and colonization of areas defaunated by high hydrocarbon levels may be rapid (Le Moal, 1980). Available information (see the species review for more details) suggests that Capitella capitata is able to withstand relatively high hydrocarbon concentrations and may even take advantage of any available space, caused by mortality of other species. Therefore the biotope has been recorded as not sensitive*.
    Radionuclide contamination
    No information No information No information Insufficient
    information
    Not relevant
    There is insufficient information to make an assessment.
    Changes in nutrient levels
    Tolerant* Not relevant Not sensitive* Not relevant High
    Capitella capitata is an opportunist especially associated with organically enriched and polluted sediments (Warren, 1977; Pearson & Rosenberg, 1978) so an increase in nutrients is likely to be beneficial to the biotope. Holte & Oug (1996) found that during periods of influx of organic material Capitella capitata is capable of explosive population growth, often becoming predominant, under high input levels, to the exclusion of nearly all other species. Only when nutrients are so high that severe hypoxia or complete anoxia occurs does Capitella capitata not survive. Therefore, the benchmark level of increase in nutrients is not likely to have a major impact on the biotope and any that does occur will be beneficial. However, the biotope may be intolerant of a decline in nutrient levels. Capitella capitata is often associated with enriched sediments although it is just as often found in organically poor areas (Eagle & Rees, 1973). However, in these conditions other species are also able to survive and may out-compete Capitella capitata. Thus, as nutrient levels decrease other species may appear and the abundance of Capitella capitata will decrease such that the biotope will be lost. Nevertheless, in terms of the benchmark, the biotope is expected to be not sensitive*.
    Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Moderate
    The biotope occurs in areas of full salinity although will be subject to some variability because of rainfall in the intertidal. There are no reports of the biotope occurring in hypersaline areas such as rockpools where evaporation in the summer causes salinity to increase. Although Capitella capitata may be able to tolerate increased salinity it is unlikely such a change will occur in the field and so the factor is ranked as 'not relevant'.
    Low Very high Moderate No change High
    Capitella capitata occurs in the seaward portion of estuaries (salinities >18 ppt) and, under corresponding conditions in non-tidal brackish waters (Barnes, 1994), can withstand considerable salinity fluctuations (Leppäkoski, 1975) and showed a positive correlation to decreasing salinity in an estuary in Java, Indonesia (Soemodinoto et al., 1995).Therefore, Capitella capitata has a low intolerance to a decrease in salinity and the biotope is also ranked as low.
    Low Very high Very Low No change High
    Diaz & Rosenberg (1995) classify Capitella capitata as a species resistant to 'moderate' hypoxia with oxygen decline to about 0.7mg/l. In laboratory experiments testing hypoxia tolerance at 5-6°C most Capitella capitata survived >24 days at an oxygen concentration of 1.5ml/l (2.1mg/l, Rosenberg, 1972). Bolam & Fernandes (2002) and Shull (1997) noted that Capitella capitata can colonize azoic sediments rapidly in relatively high numbers. Only completely anoxic sediments will be completely azoic. Thus, because of the ability of Capitella capitata to tolerate hypoxic conditions the biotope will have low intolerance to changes in oxygenation at the level of the benchmark.

    Biological Pressures

     IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityRichnessEvidence/Confidence
    No information No information No information Insufficient
    information
    Not relevant
    No information on diseases affecting Capitella capitata or the biotope was found.
    Tolerant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant
    No known non-native species compete with Capitella capitata and so the biotope is assessed as not sensitive. However, as several species have become established in British waters there is always the potential for an adverse effect from a non-native species to occur.
    Low Very high Very Low No change Low
    Extraction of Capitella capitata is highly unlikely because the species has no commercial value. However, bottom fishing for demersal species may deplete populations in some habitats. The infaunal nature of Capitella capitata may offer some protection from dredging / trawling. Bonsdorff & Pearson (1997) found that sediment disturbance forced the polychaete deeper into the sediment, although the species was able to burrow back through the sediment to the surface again. However, the polychaete burrows close to the sediment surface and has a fragile body that may be easily damaged by the impact of an anchor or mobile fishing gear. Intolerance has been assessed as intermediate. Recovery is likely to be very high because Capitella capitata is iteroparous and is thought to breed all year (see additional information).
    Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant

    Additional information

    Recoverability
    Capitella capitata has an opportunistic life history and year round breeding. Bolam & Fernandes (2002) and Shull (1997) noted that Capitella capitata can colonize azoic sediments rapidly in relatively high numbers. Shull (1997) also demonstrated that this occurs by larval settlement, bedload transport and by burrowing. For example, after dredging in Canada, rapid colonization of Capitella capitata took place (Wildish & Thomas, 1985). Since Capitella capitata colonization can reach maturity within about 40 days, populations may be established and breeding within 6 months of a new substratum becoming available. Thus, recovery is very high.

    Importance review

    Policy/Legislation

    UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority

    Exploitation

    Capitella capitata has no commercial value and so is unlikely to be subject to exploitation.

    Additional information

    -

    Bibliography

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    Citation

    This review can be cited as:

    Hill, J. & Bilewitch, J. 2009. Capitella capitata in enriched sublittoral muddy sediments. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Available from: http://www.marlin.ac.uk/habitat/detail/106

    Last Updated: 23/06/2009