MarLIN

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

Infralittoral mobile clean sand with sparse fauna

08-11-2016

Summary

UK and Ireland classification

UK and Ireland classification

Description

Medium to fine sandy sediment in shallow water, often formed into dunes, on exposed or tide-swept coasts often contains very little infauna due to the mobility of the substratum. Some opportunistic populations of infaunal amphipods may occur, particularly in less mobile examples in conjunction with low numbers of mysids such as Gastrosaccus spinifer, the polychaete Nephtys cirrosa and the isopod Eurydice pulchra. Sand eels Ammodytes sp. may occasionally be observed in association with this biotope (and others). This biotope is more mobile than SSA.NcirBat and may be closely related to LSa.BarSa on the shore. Common epifaunal species such as Pagurus bernhardus, Liocarcinus depurator, Carcinus maenas and Asterias rubens may be encountered and are the most conspicuous species present (JNCC, 2015)

Depth range

0-5 m, 10-20 m, 5-10 m

Additional information

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Further information sources

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Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

Sensitivity characteristics of the habitat and relevant characteristic species

The biotope description and characterizing species are taken from JNCC (2015). This biotope is characterized by mobile clean sand sediments in shallow water The mobility of the sediment leads to a species-poor community, with mysids such as Gastrosaccus spinifer,  polychaetes (Nephtys cirrosa), the isopods (Eurydice pulchra) and burrowing amphipods (Bathyporeia elegans, Pontocrates arenarius, and Urothoe brevicornis). The sediments and wave exposure are key factors maintaining the biotope and are considered in the sensitivity assessments where the pressure may alter these.  

Resilience and recovery rates of habitat

The species inhabiting this biotope are characteristic of mobile sediments and are adapted to the high levels of disturbance.  The species present in the biotope must either be able to withstand mobile sediments through physical robustness, mobility and ability to re-position within sediments such as Nephtys cirrosa and the mobile amphipods and/or to recover rapidly to sustain population losses following severe erosion. Characterizing species typically have opportunistic life history strategies, with short life histories (typically two years or less, see below), rapid maturation and extended reproductive periods. Typically they produce juveniles that are either brooded (amphipods and isopds) and are therefore present to repopulate the disturbed habitat directly, or have pelagic larvae (Nephtys cirrosa) capable of dispersal within the water column. Adults may also be transported in the water column.

The amphipods characterizing this biotope are found in sediments subject to physical disturbance, as a result of wave action or in wave sheltered biotopes, strong tidal streams. This group is, therefore, tolerant of disturbed environments and can recover quickly. Bathyporeia spp. are short lived, reaching sexual maturity within 6 months with 6-15 eggs per brood, depending on species.  Reproduction may be continuous (Speybroeck et al., 2008) with one set of embryos developing in the brood pouch whilst the next set of eggs is developing in the ovaries. However, specific reproductive periods vary between  species and between locations (Mettam, 1989) and bivoltine patterns (twice yearly peaks in reproduction) have been observed (Mettam, 1989; Speybroeck et al., 2008). Adult amphipods are highly mobile in the water column and recolonization by the adults is likely to be a significant recovery pathway.  The life history traits of rapid sexual maturation and production of multiple broods annually support rapid local recolonization of disturbed sediments where some of the adult population remains. The isopod Eurydice pulchra also produces brooded young, but only produces a single brood a year, reproducing twice in its two year lifespan (Fish, 1970; Jones, 1970).

Nephtys cirrosa is a relatively long-lived polychaete with a lifespan of six to possibly as much as nine years. It matures at one year and the females release over 10,000 (and up to 80,000 depending on species) eggs of 0.11-0.12 mm from April through to March. These are fertilized externally and develop into an early lecithotrophic larva & a later planktotrophic larva which spends as much as 12 months in the water column before settling from July-September. The genus has a relatively high reproductive capacity and widespread dispersion during the lengthy larval phase. It is likely to have a high recoverability following disturbance (MES, 2010). Adults are mobile and capable of swimming and adults are therefor qable to migrate in and out of this biotope.

Leewis et al. (2012) investigated the recovery of some of the characterizing species, Eurydice pulchra and Bathyporeia sarsi, following beach nourishment by comparing beaches that had been exposed at different times. The lengths of beach nourished varied from 0.5 kn to > 7 km and nourishment is likely to kill all animals present, so the results are applicable to broad-scale disturbance and defaunation.  Recovery to original abundances appeared to occur within one year for the characterizing species which were in agreement with other studies (Leewis et al., 2012 and references therein).

Resilience assessment. As a consequence of the dynamic nature of the habitat the faunal component of the biotope is very sparse and low in species richness. Therefore, the community might be considered 'mature' only a few days or weeks after the last storm event, as the mobile species displaced from the biotope and those from adjacent area colonize the substratum via the surf plankton. Even following severe disturbances recovery would be expected to occur within a year; biotope resilience is therefore assessed as ‘High’ for any level of impact (e.g. where resistance is ‘None’, ‘Low’ or ‘Medium’).

NB: The resilience and the ability to recover from human induced pressures is a combination of the environmental conditions of the site, the frequency (repeated disturbances versus a one off event) and the intensity of the disturbance. Recovery of impacted populations will always be mediated by stochastic events and processes acting over different scales including, but not limited to, local habitat conditions, further impacts and processes such as larval-supply and recruitment between populations. Full recovery is defined as the return to the state of the habitat that existed prior to impact.  This does not necessarily mean that every component species has returned to its prior condition, abundance or extent but that the relevant functional components are present and the habitat is structurally and functionally recognizable as the initial habitat of interest. It should be noted that the recovery rates are only indicative of the recovery potential.

Hydrological Pressures

 ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
High High Not sensitive
Q: High
A: Medium
C: NR
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: Medium
C: Low

The amphipods and isopods that occur within this habitat are mobile and can avoid unfavourable conditions to some extent. The isopod Eurydice pulchra, was observed to migrate seasonally off-shore in the Dovey Estuary (Wales). Bathyporeia life cycles vary between locations and this is related to temperature (Mettam, 1989). Preece (1971) tested temperature tolerances of Bathyporeia pelagica and Bathyporeia pilosa in the laboratory.  Individuals acclimated to 15oC for 24 hours were exposed to temperature increases (water temperature raised by 0.2oC/minute). As test  temperature were reached individuals were removed, placed in seawater at 4oC and allowed to recover for 24 hours at which point mortalities were tested. Amphipods were also allowed to bury into sediments and held at test temperatures for 24 hours of 32.5 oC, 31.8oC and 29.5oC before being allowed to recover in fresh seawater at 15oC for a further 24 hours, before mortalities were assessed. Upper lethal temperatures (the temperature at which 50% of individuals died for adult males and gravid females of Bathyporeia pilosa were 37.5oC and 39.4oC, respectively. Bathyporeia pelagica exhibited lower tolerances and adult males and gravid females had upper lethal temperature tolerances of 33.4 and 34.2oC respectively. These tests measures short-term exposure only and species had lower tolerance for longer-term (24 hour exposure).  No mortality occurred for Bathyporeia pilosa individuals held at 29.5oC and 30.8oC; however 15% of individuals exposed to water temperatures of 31.8oC and 96% at 32.5oC died. Bathyporeia pelagica exhibited lower tolerances, 11% of individuals died after 24 hr exposure to 29.5oC and 100% mortality occurred at 30.8oC and above (Preece, 1971).

Emery & Stevensen (1957) reported that Nephtys spp. could withstand summer temperatures of 30-35 °C so is likely to withstand the benchmark acute temperature increase. An acute increase in temperature at the benchmark level may result in physiological stress endured by the infaunal species but is unlikely to lead to mortality.

Sensitivity assessment. Typical surface water temperatures around the UK coast vary seasonally from 4-19 oC (Huthnance, 2010).  A chronic increase in temperature throughout the year of 2oC may fall within the normal temperature variation and an acute increase in water temperatures from 19 to 24oC for a month may be tolerated by the characterizing species supported by deeper burrowing and/or migration. For Bathyporeia spp. temperature increases above 30oC appear to be critical based on Preece (1971). Biotope resistance is therefore assessed as ‘High’ and resilience as ‘High’ so that the biotope is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’. Increased water and air temperatures and desiccation may lead to greater synergistic effects and the loss of characterizing amphipods and isopods may result in shifts between the variant sub-biotopes. 

High High Not sensitive
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High

Crisp (1964) reported that species of amphipod and isopods seemed to be unharmed by the severe winter of 1962-1963. This may be due to burial in sediments buffering temperature or seasonal migration to deeper waters to avoid freezing.  In the winter, Eurydice pulchra , for example, migrates from the intertidal into the sublittoral zone, thus escaping extreme temperatures (Jones, 1970b) and winter migrations have also been observed for Bathyporeia spp. (Fish & Fish, 1978; Fish & Preece, 1970).

Preece (1971) tested the temperature tolerances of Bathyporeia pelagica and Bathyporeia pilosa in the laboratory.  Individuals acclimated to 15oC for 24 hours were placed in a freezer in wet sediment. As test temperatures were reached individuals were removed and allowed to recover for 24 hours at which point mortalities were tested. Amphipods were also allowed to bury into sediments and held at test temperatures of -1oc, -3oC and -5oC for 24 hours before being allowed to recover in fresh seawater at 15oC for a further 24 hours before mortalities were assessed. Lower lethal short term tolerances of Bathyporeia pilosa and Bathyporeia pelagica were -13.6oC and -6.4oC respectively.  Sensitivity to longer-term exposure is greater, especially for Bathyporeia pelagica. Bathyporeia pilosa individuals could withstand temperatures as low as -1oC for 24 hours, while 42% of Bathyporeia pelagica died. At -3oC 5% of Bathyporeia pilosa died (100% of Bathyporeia pelagica) but this rose to 82% at -5oC.

Nephtys cirrosa reaches its northern limit in Scotland, and German Bight of the North Sea. A decrease in temperature is likely to result in loss of the species from the SS.SSa.SSaVS biotope in Scotland.

Sensitivity assessment. Typical surface water temperatures around the UK coast vary seasonally from 4-19 oC (Huthnance, 2010).  A chronic decrease in temperature throughout the year of 2oC may fall within the normal temperature variation but an acute decrease in water temperatures from 4oC to -1oC at the coldest part of the year may lead to freezing and lethal effects on for a month may be tolerated by the characterizing species supported by deeper burrowing and/or migration to deeper waters. For Bathyporeia spp. seawater temperature decreases below -1oC appear to be critical based on Preece (1971). Biotope resistance is therefore assessed as ‘Medium’ and resilience as ‘High’ so that biotope sensitivity is assessed as 'Low'.

No evidence (NEv) No evidence (NEv) No evidence (NEv)
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

This biotope is found in full salinity (30-35 ppt) habitats (JNCC, 2015), a change at the pressure benchmark is therefore assessed as a change to hypersaline conditions. Little evidence was found to assess responses to hypersalinity. However, monitoring at a Spanish desalination facility where discharges close to the outfall reached a salinity of 53, found that amphipods were sensitive to the increased salinity and that species free-living in the sediment were most sensitive. The study area did not host any of the species characterizing this biotope but the results indicate a general sensitivity (De-la-Ossa-Carretero, et al., 2016).

Sensitivity assessment.  Not assessed, ‘No evidence’.

Medium High Low
Q: High
A: Medium
C: High
Q: High
A: Low
C: High
Q: High
A: Low
C: High

The biotope is found in full salinity habitats (JNCC, 2015). A change at the pressure benchmark refers to a decrease from full to variable (18-35 ppt), or to reduced salinity (18-30 ppt). Eurydice pulchra was found to be relatively euryhaline (Jones, 1970b), whilst Bathyporeia pelagica migrates seaward in response to reduced salinities, the effect of which is enhanced by higher temperature (Preece, 1970). Bathyporeia pilosa is, however, more tolerant of low salinities and is capable of reproducing at salinities as low as 2 (Khayrallah, 1977). Populations of Bathyporeia pilosa within the upper reaches of the Severn Estuary experience wide fluctuations in salinity ranging from 1-22 depending on the season and tidal cycle (Mettam, 1989). The physiological stress for this environment affects size and reproduction (Mettam, 1989). Speybroeck et al. (2008) noted that Bathyporeia pilosa tends to occur subtidally in estuarine and brackish conditions. Local populations may be acclimated to the prevailing salinity regime and may exhibit different tolerances to other populations subject to different salinity conditions and, therefore, caution should be used when inferring tolerances from populations in different regions.  

A reduction in salinity at the pressure benchmark is likely to result in the loss of species and biotope reversion to the biotope SS.SSa.SSaVS.MoSaVS, which occurs in typical mobile sand conditions but in reduced salinities and lacks Nepthys cirrosa and Bathyporeia spp. (although these may be washed in from adjacent communities) (JNCC, 2015).

Sensitivity assessment. A decrease in salinity is likely to lead to changes in species abundance and richness and biotope reclassification to SS.SSa.SSaVS.MoSaVS. Biotope resistance is assessed as ‘None’ and resilience as ‘High’ (following restoration of typical habitat conditions). Sensitivity is therefore assessed as ‘Medium’. 

High High Not sensitive
Q: Low
A: NR
C: NR
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: Low
A: Low
C: Low

Water movement is a key factor physically structuring this biotope, with sediment sorting and mobilisation by tidal streams and wave action modifying the sediments present and the level of disturbance. This biotope is recorded where tidal streams may be strong (1.5-3 m/s) or very weak (negligible) (JNCC, 2015), in areas where flows are lower, wave action may be more important in maintaining the sediment mobility that structures the biotope.  Where similar sand habitats occur in  more sheltered areas the biological structure alters in response to the decrease in sediment mobility and the biotope SS.SSa.IFiSa.NcirBat may develop. 

Sensitivity assessment. The sediments that characterize this biotope and sub-biotopes are mobile sands that range from medium to fine, a change at the pressure benchmark (increase or decrease) may lead to some changes in sediment sorting. Based on the range of water flows experienced, biotopes occurring in habitats at the middle of the range are considered to be 'Not sensitive' to an increase or decrease in flow at the pressure benchmark. Changes in water flow in areas sheltered from wave action could. however, lead to changes in biotope classification due to the increase in sediment stability.

Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR)
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

Not relevant to sublittoral biotopes.​

High High Not sensitive
Q: High
A: Medium
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: Medium
C: High

Water movement is a key factor physically structuring this biotope, with sediment sorting and mobilisation by tidal streams and wave action modifying the sediments present and the level of disturbance. The assessed biotope is found in habitats that are exposed to sheltered from wave action (JNCC, 2015).

Sensitivity assessment. Wave action is a key factor structuring this biotope through sediment mobility.  As the biotope occurs across three wave exposure categories (JNCC, 2015) this is considered to indicate, by proxy, that a change in wave exposure at the pressure benchmark is less than the natural range of wave heights experienced.  Biotope resistance to this pressure is therefore assessed as ‘High’ and resilience as ‘High (by default) so that the biotope is considered to be ‘Not sensitive’ at the pressure benchmark. 

Chemical Pressures

 ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR) Not sensitive
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

Not sensitive at the pressure benchmark that assumes compliance with all relevant environmental protection standards.

Levels of contaminants that exceed the pressure benchmark may cause impacts. For most metals, toxicity to crustaceans increases with decreased salinity and elevated temperature, therefore marine species living within their normal salinity range may be less susceptible to heavy metal pollution than those living in salinities near the lower limit of their salinity tolerance (McLusky et al., 1986). Jones (1973; 1975b) found that mercury (Hg) and copper (Cu) reacted synergistically with changes in salinity and increased temperature (10°C) to become increasingly toxic to species of isopod, including Eurydice pulchra.

Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR) Not sensitive
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

Not sensitive at the pressure benchmark that assumes compliance with all relevant environmental protection standards.  

Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR) Not sensitive
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

Not sensitive at the pressure benchmark that assumes compliance with all relevant environmental protection standards.

In general, crustaceans are widely reported to be intolerant of synthetic chemicals (Cole et al., 1999) and intolerance to some specific chemicals has been observed in amphipods. Powell (1979) inferred from the known susceptibility of Crustacea to synthetic chemicals and other non-lethal effects, that there would probably also be a deleterious effect on isopod fauna as a direct result of chemical application. Toxicity tests conducted by Smith (1968), indicated that survival of Eurydice pulchra after oil detergent treatment was above average for crustaceans. All were killed at about 10 ppm BP 1002 after 24 hours exposure, whilst at 5 ppm four out of five individuals survived when transferred to clean seawater. However, in the field a proportion of the Eurydice pulchra population survived exposure to lethal concentrations of BP 1002, both in the sand and water.

No evidence (NEv) No evidence (NEv) No evidence (NEv)
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

No evidence.

Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR) Not sensitive
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

Not sensitive at the pressure benchmark that assumes compliance with all relevant environmental protection standards.

High High Not sensitive
Q: High
A: Medium
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: Medium
C: High

Information concerning the reduced oxygen tolerance of Nephtys cirrosa was not found but evidence (Alheit, 1978; Arndt & Schiedek, 1997; Fallesen & Jørgensen, 1991) indicated a similar species, Nephtys hombergii, to be very tolerant of episodic oxygen deficiency and at the benchmark duration of one week.

Laboratory studies by Khayrallah (1977) on Bathyporeia pilosa, indicated that it has a relatively poor resistance to conditions of hypoxia in comparison to other interstitial animals. However, Mettam (1989) and Sandberg (1997) suggest that Bathyporeia pilosa can survive short-term hypoxia.

Sensitivity assessment.  This biotope  is characterized by mobile sands in areas that experience strong water flows or are wave exposed. The mixing effect of wave action and water movement will limit the intensity and duration of exposure to deoxygenated waters. The species characterizing the biotope are also mobile and able to migrate vertically or shorewards to escape unsuitable conditions. Biotope resistance is therefore assessed as ‘High’ and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) so that the biotope is considered to be ‘Not sensitive’.

High High Not sensitive
Q: Low
A: NR
C: NR
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: Low
A: Low
C: Low

In-situ primary production is limited to microphytobenthos within and on sediments and the high levels of sediment mobility may limit the level of primary production as abrasion would be likely to damage diatoms (Delgado et al., 1991). The amphipods feed on epipsammic diatoms attached to the sand grains (Nicolaisen & Kanneworff, 1969). Both these groups may benefit from slight nutrient enrichment if this enhanced primary production. 

Sensitivity assessment.  Nutrient level is not a key factor structuring the biotope at the pressure benchmark. In general, however, primary production is low and this biotope is species poor and characterizing species may be present at low abundances (depending on sediment mobility). Biotope resistance is therefore assessed as ‘High’, resilience as ‘High’ (by default) and the biotope is considered to be ‘Not sensitive’.

High High Not sensitive
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High

The biotope occurs in mobile sand sediments where wave action leads to particle sorting, in-situ primary production is restricted to microphytobenthos although sediment mobility may restrict production levels (Delgado et al., 1991). 

Sensitivity assessment.  At the pressure benchmark organic inputs are unlikely to significantly affect the structure of the biological assemblage or impact the physical habitat, due to remobilisation and transport by wave or currents. Biotope sensitivity is therefore assessed as ‘High’ and resilience as ‘High’ (by default) and the biotope is therefore considered to be ‘Not sensitive’.

Physical Pressures

 ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
None Very Low High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High

All marine habitats and benthic species are considered to have a resistance of ‘None’ to this pressure and to be unable to recover from a permanent loss of habitat (resilience is ‘Very Low’).  Sensitivity within the direct spatial footprint of this pressure is therefore ‘High’.  Although no specific evidence is described confidence in this assessment is ‘High’, due to the incontrovertible nature of this pressure.

None Very Low High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High

The biotope is characterized by the sedimentary habitat (JNCC, 2015), a change to an artificial or rock substratum would alter the character of the biotope leading to reclassification and the loss of the sedimentary community including the characterizing polychaetes, amphipods and isopods.

Sensitivity assessment. Based on the loss of the biotope, resistance is assessed as ‘None’, recovery is assessed as ‘Very low’ (as the change at the pressure benchmark is permanent and sensitivity is assessed as ‘High’.

None Very Low High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High

The pressure benchmark refers to the simplified Folk classification developed by Long (2006) and the UK Marine Habitat Classification Littoral and Sublittoral Sediment Matrices (Connor et al., 2004). The biotope occurs on mobile sands, a change at the pressure benchmark refers to a change to sandy muds or muddy sands or to coarser gravel sediments. Experiments by Van Tomme et al. (2013) have shown that the optimal sedimentary habitats for some of he species that characterize this biotope vary slightly. Bathyporeia pilosa and Eurydice pulchra prefer the finest sediments, although at a subtidal dredge disposal site the change to a finer sediment led to a reduction in the abundance of Bathyporeia pilosa (Witt et al., 2004). Bathyporeia sarsi has a broader preference and also occurred in medium-coarse sediments (Van Tomme et al., 2013). 

Nepthys cirrosa occurs in fine to coarser sands, with greatest abundance in the Belgium part of the North Sea recorded in medium grain sizes (Degraer et al., 2006). A change to gravelly sand is unlikely to impact this species, however, a change to muddy sand may limit the species abundance as the species displays a slight preference for low mud content levels (< 10%) (Degraer et al., 2006).  

Sensitivity assessment. A change to either a finer muddy sediment or a coarser sediment, is likely to lead to changes in the abundance and identity of the characterizing species . Based on the loss of the biotope, resistance is assessed as ‘None’, recovery is assessed as ‘Very low’ (as the change at the pressure benchmark is permanent and sensitivity is assessed as ‘High’.

None High Medium
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High

Bathyporeia pelagica lives infaunally in the uppermost 3 cm of sandy substrata as does the isopod Eurydice pulchra (Fish, 1970). Extraction of the sediment to 30cm is likely to remove the characterizing polychaetes, amphipods and isopods within the footprint (although if disturbed some may be able to escape). 

Sensitivity assessment. Biotope resistance to extraction of sediment and characterizing species is assessed as ‘None. Resilience is assessed as ‘High’, as sediment recovery will be enhanced by wave action and mobility of sand. The characterizing species are likely to recover through transport of adults in the water column or migration from adjacent patches. Biotope sensitivity is therefore assessed as ‘Medium’.

Low High Low
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: Low
C: High
Q: High
A: Low
C: High

This biotope group is present in mobile sands, the associated species are generally present in low abundances and adapted to frequent disturbance suggesting that resistance to surface abrasion would be high. The amphipod and isopod species present are agile swimmers and are characterized by their ability to withstand sediment disturbance (Elliott et al. 1998). Similarly, the polychaete Nephtys cirrosa is adapted to life in unstable sediments and lives within the sediment. This characteristic is likely to protect this species from surface abrasion.

Comparisons between shores with low and high levels of trampling found that the amphipod Bathyporeia pelagica is sensitive to abrasion and compaction from human trampling, other species including Pontocrates arenarius and the isopod Eurydice affinis also decreased in response to trampling but Bathyporeia pelagica appeared to be the most sensitive  (Reyes-Martínez et al., 2015).  

Sensitivity assessment. Resistance to a single abrasion event is assessed as ‘Low’ based on the evidence for trampling from Reyes-Martínez et al. (2015). Resilience is assessed as ‘High’, based on migration from adjacent populations and in-situ reproduction by surviving amphipods.  Sensitivity is therefore assessed as ‘Low’. This assessment may underestimate sensitivity to high-levels of abrasion (repeated events within a short period). The trampling evidence and the evidence for penetration from mobile gears (see below) differ in the severity (resistance) of impact. This may be due to different levels of intensity (multiple trampling/abrasion events vs single penetration/towed gear impacts) or the nature of the pressure. Abrasion from trampling also involves a level of compaction that could collapse burrows and damage species through compression. Penetration may, however, break sediments open allowing mobile species to escape or species may be pushed forwards from towed gear by a pressure wave where this is deployed subtidally (Gilkinson et al., 1998). Both risk assessments are considered applicable to single events based on the evidence and the sensitivity assessment for both pressures is the same although resistance differs. 

Medium High Low
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High

This biotope group is present in mobile sands, the associated species are generally present in low abundances and adapted to frequent disturbance suggesting that resistance to abrasion and penetration and disturbance of the sediment would be high. The amphipod and isopod species present are agile swimmers and are characterized by their ability to withstand sediment disturbance (Elliott et al. 1998).

Bergman and Santbrink (2000) found that direct mortality of gammarid amphipods, following a single passage of a beam trawl (in silty sediments where penetration is greater) was 28%. Similar results were reported from experiments in shallow, wave disturbed areas, using a toothed, clam dredge. Bathyporeia spp. experienced a reduction of 25% abundance in samples immediately after intense clam dredging, abundance recovered after 1 day (Constantino et al. 2009). Experimental hydraulic dredging for razor clams resulted in  no statistically significant differences in Bathyporeia elegans abundances between treatments after 1 or 40 days (Hall et al., 1990), suggesting that recovery from effects was very rapid. Ferns et al. (2000) examined the effects of a tractor-towed cockle harvester on benthic invertebrates and predators in intertidal plots of muddy and clean sand. Harvesting resulted in the loss of a significant proportion of the most common invertebrates from both areas. In the muddy sand, the population of Bathyporeia pilosa remained significantly depleted for more than 50 days, whilst the population in clean sand recovered more quickly. These results agree with other experimental studies that clean sands tend to recover more quickly that other habitat types with higher proportions of fine sediment (Dernie et al., 2003).

Sensitivity assessment. Based on the evidence above it is considered that Bathyporeia spp. and other characterizing species will have ‘Medium’ resistance (mortality <25%) to abrasion, their small size, infaunal position and mobility enabling a large proportion of the population to escape injury. Recovery is assessed as ‘High’ and sensitivity is therefore categorised as ‘Low’.The trampling evidence (see above) and the evidence for penetration from mobile gears  differ in the severity (resistance) of impact. This may be due to different levels of intensity (multiple trampling/abrasion events vs single penetration/towed gear impacts) or the nature of the pressure. Abrasion from trampling also involves a level of compaction that could collapse burrows and damage species through compression. Penetration may, however, break sediments open allowing mobile species to escape or species may be pushed forwards from towed gear by a pressure wave where this is deployed subtidally (Gilkinson et al., 1998). 

Medium High Low
Q: Low
A: NR
C: NR
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: Low
A: Low
C: Low

The characterizing species live within the sand and are unlikely to be directly affected by an increased concentration of suspended matter in the water column. Within the mobile sands habitat storm events or spring tides may re-suspend or transport large amounts of material and therefore species are considered to be adapted to varying levels of suspended solids.

 Bathyporeia spp. feed on diatoms within the sand grains (Nicolaisen & Kanneworff, 1969), an increase in suspended solids that reduced light penetration could alter food supply. However, diatoms are able to photosynthesise while the tide is out and therefore a reduction in light during tidal inundation may not affect this food source , depending on the timing of the tidal cycle.  The isopod Eurydice pulchra feeds on the amphipod and polychaete characterizing species and, it may, therefore, be indirectly affected by changes in food supply if other species are impacted by changes in suspended solids. Nephtys cirrosa is also a carnivore.

Amphipods and isopods may be regular swimmers within the surf plankton, where the concentration of suspended particles would be expected to be higher (Fincham, 1970a). Furthermore, during the winter, when Bathyporeia pelagica extends its distribution into the mouths of estuaries the species may encounter concentrations of suspended sediment measurable in grams per litre (benchmark is mg/l) (Cole et al. 1999).  

Sensitivity assessment. Increased inorganic suspended solids may increase abrasion but it is likely that the infaunal species would be unaffected. The biotope is considered to be ‘Not sensitive’ to a decrease in suspended solids that does not affect sediment transport and supply to the biotope. Biotope resistance is assessed as ‘Medium’ as some effects on feeding and diatom productivity may occur from increases in suspended solids, resilience is assessed as ‘High’, following a return to usual conditions and sensitivity is assessed as ‘Low’. This more precautionary assessment is presented in the table.  Indirect effects such as deposition, erosion and associated sediment change that may result from changes in suspended solids in the long-term are assessed separately. 

High High Not sensitive
Q: High
A: Medium
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: Medium
C: High

Evidence for the effects of siltation by thick layers of added sediment from beach nourishment is described for the heavy deposition pressure below. The pressure benchmark for light deposition refers to the addition of a relatively thin layer of deposits in a single event.  Species adapted to coarse sediments may not be able to burrow through fine sediments, or experienced reduced burrowing ability. For example, Bijkerk (1988, results cited from Essink, 1999) found that the maximal overburden through which Bathyporeia could migrate was approximately 20 cm in mud and 40 cm in sand.  No further information was available on the rates of survivorship or the time taken to reach the surface.

Sensitivity assessment.  As the biotope is associated with wave exposed habitats or those with strong currents, some sediment removal will occur, mitigating the effect of deposition. The mobile polychaete Nephtys cirrosa, amphipods and the isopod Eurydice pulchra are likely to be able to burrow through a 5cm layer of fine sediments. Biotope resistance is therefore assessed as ‘High’ and resilience as ‘High’ (by default). The biotope is therefore considered to be ‘Not sensitive’ to this pressure.  Repeated deposits or deposits over a large area or in sheltered systems that were shifted by wave and tidal action may result in sediment change (see physical change pressure).

Low High Low
Q: High
A: Medium
C: High
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: High
A: Medium
C: High

Studies have found that beach ‘replenishment’ or ‘nourishment’ that involves the addition of sediments on beaches can have a number of impacts on the infauna (Peterson et al., 2000, Peterson et al., 2006). Impacts are more severe when the sediment added differs significantly in grain size or organic content (Nelson et al., 1989, Peterson et al., 2000).  For example, Maurer et al. (1981) found that the amphipod Parahaustorius longimerus which occurs intertidally in clean, well-sorted sands and is an active, effective burrower was able to regain the surface after being buried by sand far more easily than when buried under silt/clay mixtures.

A thick layer of sediment has a smothering effect and in most instances buried species will die although some polychaetes can escape up to 90cm of burial In response to nourishment (Speybroek et al., 2007, references therein). Peterson et al. (2000) found that the dominant macrofauna were reduced by 86-99% 5-10 weeks after the addition of sediment that was finer than the original sediments but with a high shell content.

Little empirical information was found for the ability of characterizing species to reach the surface after burial. Bijkerk (1988, results cited from Essink, 1999) found that the maximal overburden through which Bathyporeia could migrate was approximately 20 cm in mud and 40 cm in sand.  No further information was available on the rates of survivorship or the time taken to reach the surface and no information was available for other characterizing species.

Leewis et al. (2012) investigated the recovery of Eurydice pulchra and Bathyporeia sarsi, following beach nourishment by comparing beaches that had been exposed at different times. The lengths of beach nourished varied from 0.5 kn to > 7 km.  Recovery to original abundances appeared to occur within one year for the characterizing species which were in agreement with other studies (Leewis et al., 2012 and references therein).  

Repeated events are not considered at the pressure benchmark but it is noted that annual beach nourishment can alter beach sediments (see physical change pressure) and result in suppression of macroinvertebrate populations (Manning et al., 2014).

Sensitivity assessment. The thickness of sediment applied during beach nourishment is likely to exceed the 30cm pressure benchmark but the results from studies on the activity are informative, particularly with regard to recovery rate. Sediment removal by wave action could mitigate the level of effect but overall smothering by fine sediments is likely to result in mortality of characterizing amphipods and isopods and possibly Nephtys cirrosa. Biotope resistance is therefore assessed as ‘Low’ and resilience as 'High' (based on Leewis et al., 2012), biotope sensitivity is therefore assessed as ‘Low’.

Not Assessed (NA) Not assessed (NA) Not assessed (NA)
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

This pressure is not assessed. Amphipods may also consume microplastics although no negative effects have been documented. Ugolini et al. ( 2013) found that Talitrus saltator could consume polyethylene microspheres.  Most microspheres were expelled in 24 h. and were totally expelled in one week. microsphere ingestion on the survival capacity in the laboratory. Analyses carried out on faeces of freshly collected individuals revealed the presence of polyethylene and polypropylene, confirming that microplastic debris could be swallowed by Talitrus saltator in natural conditions. The talitrid Orchestia gammarellus has also been recorded as ingesting microplastics in the size range 20-200µm (Thompson et al., 2004).

No evidence (NEv) No evidence (NEv) No evidence (NEv)
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

No evidence for the characterizing species was found to assess this pressure. For some amphipods there is evidence for geomagnetic orientation being inhibited or disrupted by the presence of electromagnetic fields or by changing magnetic fields. Arendse & Barendregt (1981) manipulated magnetic fields to alter orientation of the talitrid amphipod Orchestia cavimana

Deep-water amphipods Gondogenia arctica have been shown to be sensitive to even weak electromagnetic fields which cancel magnetic orientation (Tomanova & Vacha, 2016). Loss of orientation was observed at a radiofrequency electromagnetic field of 2 nT (0.002  µT) (Tomanova & Vacha, 2016).

Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR)
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

Not relevant.

Medium High Low
Q: High
A: Low
C: Low
Q: High
A: Low
C: High
Q: High
A: Low
C: Low

As this feature is not characterized by the presence of primary producers it is not considered that shading would alter the character of the habitat. No specific evidence was found to assess the sensitivity of the characterizing species to this pressure. Changes in light level may, however, affect activity rhythms of the invertebrates. Amphipods within the biotope prefer shade and therefore an increase in light may inhibit activity, particularly at night when they emerge from the sediment and are most active (Jelassi et al., 2015; Ayari, 2015). Hartwick (1976) found that artificial lighting interfered with learning or orientation cues by Talitrids.  

Orientation by light has been well studied for intertidal amphipods (particularly Talitrus saltator). Intertidal amphipods orientate themselves by a range of factors that include (but are not limited to) visual cues based on solar or astronomic cues such as the moon and the geomagnetic field (Scapini, 2014). Activity patterns are also linked to internal biological clocks that respond to diel, tidal, lunar and seasonal cycles, so that animals are active during the most suitable time of day or night (Scapini, 2014).  The introduction of light or an increase in shading could, therefore, alter behavioural patterns and navigation.

Changes in light and level of shade may indirectly affect the characterizing Bathyporeia spp. through changes in  behaviour and food supply via photosynthesis of diatoms within sediments. Benthic microalgae play a significant role in system productivity and trophic dynamics, as well as habitat characteristics such as sediment stability (Tait & Dipper, 1998). Shading could prevent photosynthesis leading to death or migration of sediment diatoms altering sediment cohesion and food supply to the grazing amphipods.

Sensitivity assessment. Changes in light are not considered to directly affect the biotope however, some changes in behaviour or food supply for Bathyporeia spp could result. Sensitivity is assessed as ‘Medium’ and resilience is assessed as ’High’. Biotope sensitivity is, therefore, assessed as ‘Low’.

High High Not sensitive
Q: Low
A: NR
C: NR
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: Low
A: Low
C: Low

As the amphipods and isopods that characterize this biotope have benthic dispersal strategies (via brooding), water transport is not a key method of dispersal over wide distances, as it is for some marine invertebrates that produce pelagic larvae such as the characterizing Nephtys cirrosa.  Barriers that limit tidal excursion and flushing may reduce connectivity or help to retain larvae.

Sensitivity assessment. The biotope (based on the biological assemblage) is considered to have ‘High’ resistance to the presence of barriers that lead to a reduction in tidal excursion, resilience is assessed as ‘High’ (by default) and the biotope is considered to be ‘Not sensitive’.

Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR)
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

Not relevant’ to seabed habitats.  NB. Collision by grounding vessels is addressed under ‘surface abrasion.

High High Not sensitive
Q: Low
A: NR
C: NR
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: Low
A: Low
C: Low

The characterizing species are likely to be able to detect light and some movement but are unlikely to have any visual acuity and are considered to not be sensitive to this factor. The amphipods emerge from the sediments at night and are unlikely to be disturbed although like many species they may flee from movements.

Sensitivity assessment. Biotope resistance is assessed as ‘High’ and resilience as ‘High’ so that the biotope is assessed as ‘Not sensitivie’.

Biological Pressures

 ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR)
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

Key characterizing species within this biotope are not cultivated or translocated. This pressure is therefore considered ‘Not relevant’ to this biotope group.

High High Not sensitive
Q: Low
A: NR
C: NR
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: Low
A: Low
C: Low

The North American amphipod Gammarus tigrinus was detected in the north-eastern Baltic Sea in 2003 and has rapidly expanded into European waters since (Jänes et al., 2015).  Native gammarids, such as Gammarus salinus have almost disappeared from some habitats of the northeastern Baltic Sea and the competition for space between the invasive Gammarus tigrinus the native Gammarus salinus has been a contributing factor in certain habitats (Kotta et al., 2011). Competition for space alone did not explain the mass disappearance of Gammarus salinus as Gammarus tigrinus did not outcompete Gammarus salinus in all Baltic Sea habitats, limiting confidence in the evidence. However, Gammarus tigrinus has been identified in many UK estuaries and coasts and appears likely to influence species composition in the biotope (NBN Gateway 2016). This species prefers lower salinities and is typical of brackish waters (Kotta et al., 2013) and is therefore not considered a threat to this biotope where salinities are unaltered from the usual full salinity conditions.

Sensitivity assessment. The sediments characterizing this biotope are mobile and frequent disturbance limits the establishment of marine and coastal invasive non-indigenous species as the habitat conditions are unsuitable for most species, as exemplified by the low species richness characterizing this biotope. This biotope is therefore considered to have 'High' resistance to this pressure and high resilience (by default), and is assessed as 'Not sensitive' to this pressure.

No evidence (NEv) No evidence (NEv) No evidence (NEv)
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

 Amphipods may also be infected by a number of parasites or pathogens that alter population numbers through changes in host condition, growth, behaviour and reproduction (Green Extabe & Ford, 2014). Infection by acanthocephalan larvae, for example, may alter behaviour and responses of gammarid amphipods (Bethel & Holmes, 1977). 

No evidence was found for pathogen/parasite outbreaks that may result in mass-mortalities in the characterizing species and this pressure is not assessed.

Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR) Not relevant (NR)
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR
Q: NR
A: NR
C: NR

Intertidal populations of Nepthys cirrosa may be targeted by bait diggers.  There is limited information on the effect of digging directly on Nephtys cirrosa populations, however there is evidence on effects on another Nephtys species: Nephtys hombergii. Nephtys hombergii is directly removed through commercial bait digging and by recreational anglers and abundance significantly decreased in areas of the Solent, UK, where bait digging (primarily for Nereis virens) had occurred (Watson et al. 2007). Recovery of Nephtys hombergii has been assessed to be very high as re-population would occur initially relatively rapidly via adult migration and later by larval recruitment. Dittman et al. (1999) observed that Nephtys hombergii was amongst the macrofauna that colonized experimentally disturbed tidal flats within two weeks of the disturbance that caused defaunation of the sediment. However, if sediment is damaged recovery is likely to be slower, for instance Nephtys hombergii abundance was reduced by 50% in areas where tractor towed cockle harvesting was undertaken on experimental plots in Burry inlet, south Wales, and had not recovered after 86 days (Ferns et al., 2000).

Sensitivity assessment. Although Nephtys cirrosa may be targeted by bait differs where this species occurs intertidally, subtidal populations are not considered to be impacted unless there was a change in emergence regime. This pressure is, therefore considered to be 'Not relevant' to the assessed biotope.

Low High Low
Q: Low
A: NR
C: NR
Q: High
A: High
C: High
Q: Low
A: Low
C: Low

The loss of the key characterizing species through unintentional removal would alter the character of the biotope. The ecosystem services such as secondary production and food for higher trophic levels would be lost. The polychaete Nephtys cirrosa and the amphipods are predated on by flat fish and other invertebrate predators during tidal inundation (Speybroeck et al., 2007; Van Tomme et al., 2014).

Sensitivity assessment. Biotope resistance to loss of the characterizing species is assessed as ‘Low’ as the burrowing lifestyle and mobility of species mean that a proportion of the population may escape incidental removal. Resilience is assessed as ‘High’ based on in-situ recovery and migration from adjacent populations and sensitivity is therefore assessed as ‘Low’. Despite the loss of a high proportion of the characterizing species the biotope would probably still be classified as belonging to SS.SSa.IFiSa.IMoSa biotope as some examples, particularly those that are very exposed to wave action, contain few species at low abundance (JNCC, 2015).

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Citation

This review can be cited as:

Tillin, H.M. 2016. Infralittoral mobile clean sand with sparse fauna. 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/262

Last Updated: 01/07/2016