information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Polychaetes in littoral fine sand



UK and Ireland classification

UK and Ireland classification


The biotope LS.LSa.FiSa.Po occurs in moderately exposed or sheltered beaches of medium and fine, usually clean, sand, though the sediment may on rare occasions contain a small silt and clay fraction. The sediment is relatively stable, remains damp throughout the tidal cycle, and contains little organic matter. It is often rippled and typically lacks an anoxic sub-surface layer. Where an anoxic layer is present, it occurs at a depth below 10 cm and tends to be patchy. The biotope occurs mainly on the lower part of the shore, and relatively frequently on the mid shore. It is only rarely present above mid shore level, except where coastal defences cause backwash onto the upper shore. Conditions are usually fully marine, though the biotope can also occur in open lower estuarine conditions. The infaunal community is dominated by a range of polychaete species such as Nephtys cirrosaParaonis fulgensSpio spp., Pygospio elegansOphelia rathkei and Scoloplos armiger. The presence of polychaetes may be seen as coloured burrows running down from the surface of the sediment, and Arenicola marina casts may be present on the sediment surface. The amphipods Bathyporeia spp. and Pontocrates arenarius frequently occur, and nemerteans are often present. On some North Wales shores, the presence of Arenicola species characterises the lowest part of the shore, with a range of species characteristic of the shallow sublittoral. These include sparsely distributed EchinocardiumAcrocnida brachiataEnsis siliqua and Fabulina fabula. The Po biotope is split into three sub-biotopes, between which there can be a large degree of overlap. The bivalve Macomangulus tenuis  sub-biotope, which is characterized by slightly more stable and fine sediments than the other two sub-biotopes. The infauna of this biotope may be affected significantly by seasonal changes in degree of wave exposure. During stormy winters, the sediment may become de-stabilised, leading to the disappearance of some macroinfaunal species. The lugworm Arenicola marina may be present occasionally, usually as a temporary recruitment and is likely to be washed out during storms (information from Connor et al. 2004).

Depth range

Mid shore, Lower shore

Additional information

The variant LS.LSa.FiSa.Po.Pful sub-biotope occurs mainly on the mid and lower shore of moderately wave-exposed coasts, with medium and fine clean sand which remains damp throughout the tidal cycle and contains little organic matter. The sediment is often rippled and typically lacks an anoxic sub-surface layer. Polychaetes make up the greater part of the community, and are dominated by Paraonis fulgensCapitella capitataPygospio elegansOphelia rathkei and Eteone longa. The presence of polychaetes may be seen as coloured burrows running down from the surface of the sediment. Nemerteans may also be present. The amphipods Bathyporeia pilosa and Bathyporeia sarsi are often present.

The variant LS.LSa.FiSa.Po.Aten sub-biotope occurs on the mid and lower shore on moderately wave-exposed and sheltered coasts, with predominantly fine sand which remains damp throughout the tidal cycle. The sediment is often rippled, and an anoxic layer may occasionally occur below a depth of 10 cm, though it is often patchy. The infaunal community is dominated by the abundant bivalve Macomangulus tenuis together with a range of polychaetes. The presence of polychaetes may be seen as coloured burrows running down from the surface of the sediment. Polychaetes that are characterising for this biotope include Nephtys cirrosaParaonis fulgens and Spio filicornis. Burrowing amphipods Bathyporeia spp. may occur in some samples of this biotope.

The variant LS.LSa.FiSa.Po.Ncir biotope occurs mainly on the mid and lower shore on moderately wave-exposed and sheltered coasts, with medium to fine clean sand which remains damp throughout the tidal cycle and contains little organic matter. The sediment is not usually well sorted and may contain a fraction of coarse sand. It is often rippled and typically lacks an anoxic sub-surface layer. The polychaete infauna is dominated by Nephtys cirrosaMagelona mirabilisSpio martinensis, Spiophanes bombyx and Paraonis fulgens. The presence of polychaetes may be seen as coloured burrows running down from the surface of the sediment. Nemertean worms may be present. The amphipods Pontocrates spp. and Bathyporeia spp., as well as Cumopsis goodsiri and the shrimp Crangon crangon are typically present. The bivalve Macomangulus tenuis is scarce or absent.

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Species indicative of sensitivity


Physical Pressures

No sensitivity data available

Chemical Pressures

No sensitivity data available

Biological Pressures

No sensitivity data available

Additional information



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This review can be cited as:

Ashley, M 2016. Polychaetes in littoral fine sand. 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. [cited 18-06-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 31/07/2016