Sabellaria alveolata reefs on sand-abraded eulittoral rock

24-02-2005
Researched byAngus Jackson Refereed byDr Terry Holt
EUNIS CodeA2.711 EUNIS NameSabellaria alveolata reefs on sand-abraded eulittoral rock

Summary

UK and Ireland classification

EUNIS 2008A2.711Sabellaria alveolata reefs on sand-abraded eulittoral rock
EUNIS 2006A2.711Sabellaria alveolata reefs on sand-abraded eulittoral rock
JNCC 2004LS.LBR.Sab.SalvSabellaria alveolata reefs on sand-abraded eulittoral rock
1997 BiotopeLR.MLR.Sab.SalvSabellaria alveolata reefs on sand-abraded eulittoral rock

Description

Many wave-exposed boulder scar grounds in the eastern basin of the Irish Sea (and as far south as Cornwall), are characterized by reefs of Sabellaria alveolata which build tubes from the mobile sand surrounding the boulders and cobbles. The tubes formed by Sabellaria alveolata form large reef-like hummocks, which serve to further stabilize the boulders. Other species in this biotope include the barnacles Semibalanus balanoides, Balanus crenatus and Elminius modestus and the molluscs Patella vulgata, Littorina littorea, Nucella lapillus and Mytilus edulis. Low abundances of algae tend to occur in areas of eroded reef. The main algal species include Porphyra spp., Mastocarpus stellatus, Ceramium spp., Fucus vesiculosus, Fucus serratus, Ulva spp. and Ulva spp. On exposed surf beaches in the south-west Sabellaria forms a crust on the rocks, rather than the classic honeycomb reef, and may be accompanied by the barnacle Balanus perforatus (typically common to abundant). On wave-exposed shores in Ireland, the brown alga Himanthalia elongata can also occur. (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

In Britain, Sabellaria alveolata distribution is restricted to south and west coasts with the eastern limit in Lyme Bay. The northern limit is the outer Solway Firth. It is also found on south, west and north coasts of Ireland. To date, MLR.Salv has only been recorded in the Solway Firth and along the Cumbrian coast, western Wales, and the Severn Estuary. In Northern Ireland reefs have been recorded from the Down coast (Rossglass and Glassdrummand) although surveys are incomplete. It has also been recorded at two sites in Ireland, Ballycotton Bay (south) and Killala Bay, (north-west).

Depth range

Lower shore, Mid shore

Additional information

Sabellaria alveolata can perform important stabilization of habitat, particularly when forming raised structures and reefs (see Ecology).

Listed By

Further information sources

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JNCC

Habitat review

Ecology

Ecological and functional relationships

  • Ecological relationships within MLR.Salv are not especially complex. Nevertheless, diversity of associated fauna may be high. Collins (2001) found 59 faunal taxa and 18 floral taxa associated with Sabellaria alveolata reefs at Criccieth in North Wales, dominated by annelids, molluscs, nematodes and hexapods. Dias & Paula (2001) recorded a total of 137 taxa in Sabellaria alveolata colonies on two shores on the central coast of Portugal. Sheets of Sabellaria alveolata can form ridges on flat shores which can trap water and create small pools (Cunningham et al., 1984) (see Habitat Complexity). This may also result in an increased species diversity, as might the stabilization of mobile sand, shingles, pebbles and cobbles (Holt et al., 1998) often attributed to the presence of extensive Sabellaria alveolata sheets.
  • Algae use older reefs as substratum. Some of these are perennials such as Fucus serratus and others annual ephemerals such as Ulva sp. The attached community may themselves have epifaunal species (Collins, 2001). In addition, the space between the epiphytic algae and the reef provide shelter for mobile organisms.
  • Several grazing molluscs, including Patella vulgata and Littorina littorea, feed directly on these algae as well as on epiphytic microalgae.

Seasonal and longer term change

Some temporal changes may be apparent in Sabellaria alveolata reefs with a cycle of decay and settlement over several years. Recruitment is very sporadic so cycles are not very predictable. Decay is primarily through the effects of storms and wave action. There will also be changes with season in the amount of algae growing in the biotope. Annual species will come and go and perennial species such as Fucus serratus exhibit changes in the level of surface cover they provide. Epiflora such as Fucus serratus, particularly if dense, may act as nursery grounds for various species including Nucella lapillus.

Habitat structure and complexity

Habitat complexity varies temporally with the cycles of development and break up of the reefs. When growing actively as sheets or hummocks the entire sea shore can be covered. Ridges can be formed on flat shores which may trap water leading to the formation of pools (Cunningham et al., 1984). These extensive sheets ('placages'), can stabilize otherwise mobile sand, shingle, cobbles and pebbles (Holt et al., 1998). However, increased habitat diversity, and therefore increased species diversity, are found as the reef begins to break up, cracks, crevices and a greater variety of available surfaces develops, creating a more diverse and complex habitat. Collins (2001) found that reefs in poor condition had a significantly higher diversity of associated infauna than intermediate condition reefs at Criccieth in North Wales. Porras et al. (1996) reported similar findings, in addition to the observation that eroded reefs have higher structural complexity. Collins (2001) also reported that, within reefs in poor condition, the sediment size was significantly larger than in other reefs. In contrast, the levels of organic content were found to be significantly higher in reefs in condition. Sabellaria alveolata reefs, due to their structure, maintain a high level of relative humidity during low tide, thereby protecting some associated flora and fauna from desiccation, which may permit some species to occur at higher levels on the shore than normal.

Productivity

Sabellaria alveolata reefs can support diverse communities (see Ecological Relationships). For example, colonies may support several species of annual and perennial algae, particularly if the reefs are older and beginning to break up. This algal growth can support several species of grazing mollusc (including Littorina littorea and Patella vulgata). Where hummocks or reefs form, the density of Sabellaria alveolata can be very high, causing high secondary productivity.

Recruitment processes

Sabellaria alveolata recruits from pelagic larvae that spend from 6 weeks to 6 months in the plankton. Although reproduction occurs each year, recruitment is very sporadic and unpredictable. Larval settlement appears to favour areas with existing Sabellaria alveolata colonies, or their dead remains (e.g. Wilson, 1971; Cunningham et al., 1984). Fucus serratus also recruits from tiny pelagic plants.

Time for community to reach maturity

Sabellaria alveolata has been recorded as living for up to 9 years but most worms survive for four years or so. The growth of Sabellaria alveolata appears to slow after its first year after settle. Wilson (1971) reported that the growth in the second and third years after settlement in some colonies was about half that of growth in the first year. Such active growth effectively prevents any other species from colonizing the reef. When growth is less active then algae can begin to colonize, as the reef begins to break up the available substratum becomes more heterogeneous permitting establishment of more species. If further recruitment does not then occur, allowing new growth, the reef will disintegrate. There is no real 'mature stage' as such, rather a cycle of growth and decay. Although settlement of Sabellaria alveolata is sporadic, areas that are good for Sabellaria alveolata tend to remain so because larval settlement appears to favour areas with existing Sabellaria alveolata colonies, or their dead remains (e.g. Wilson, 1971; Cunningham et al., 1984).

Additional information

Cunningham et al. (1994) noted the presence of large numbers of Mytilus edulis on the remains of Sabellaria alveolata colonies in several locations including Llwyngwril in Wales and at Dubmill Point in West Cumbria. In some circumstances therefore, the mussels could potentially interrupt the usual cycle of growth and decay of the reef.

Preferences & Distribution

Recorded distribution in Britain and IrelandIn Britain, Sabellaria alveolata distribution is restricted to south and west coasts with the eastern limit in Lyme Bay. The northern limit is the outer Solway Firth. It is also found on south, west and north coasts of Ireland. To date, MLR.Salv has only been recorded in the Solway Firth and along the Cumbrian coast, western Wales, and the Severn Estuary. In Northern Ireland reefs have been recorded from the Down coast (Rossglass and Glassdrummand) although surveys are incomplete. It has also been recorded at two sites in Ireland, Ballycotton Bay (south) and Killala Bay, (north-west).

Habitat preferences

Depth Range Lower shore, Mid shore
Water clarity preferences
Limiting Nutrients No information found
Salinity Full (30-40 psu)
Physiographic Open coast
Biological Zone Lower eulittoral, Eulittoral
Substratum Large to very large boulders, Small boulders, Cobbles, Pebbles, Sand
Tidal
Wave Exposed, Moderately exposed
Other preferences Availability of sand grains.

Additional Information

Although identified in the Severn Estuary, the habitat is rather different and the assemblage present is not likely to be the same as in occurrences of the biotope more typically found on open coasts. At Glasdrummand (Northern Ireland), the Sabellaria alveolata reefs extend into the subtidal. Optimal temperatures are probably higher than those typically found in the waters of the British Isles. There needs to be an adequate supply of suspended coarse sand grains in order for Sabellaria alveolata to be able to build their tubes.

Temperature preferences
The growth of Sabellaria alveolata is severely restricted below 5 °C (Gruet, 1982, cited in Holt et al., 1998). Cunningham et al. (1984) reported increasing growth rates with temperatures up to 20 °C.

Species composition

Species found especially in this biotope

    Rare or scarce species associated with this biotope

    -

    Additional information

    Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

    Explanation

    Sabellaria alveolata is the key structural species, giving the name to the biotope. Fucus serratus has been included as the most frequent and abundant of the characterizing species in the biotope. It contributes to biotope sensitivity when attached to Sabellaria alveolata by creating extra surface area exposed to wave action or water flow. Littorina littorea is the most frequent algal grazer in the biotope and can contribute to the regulation of levels of epiflora.

    Species indicative of sensitivity

    Community ImportanceSpecies nameCommon Name
    Important structuralFucus serratusToothed wrack
    Important functionalLittorina littoreaCommon periwinkle
    Key structuralSabellaria alveolataHoneycomb worm

    Physical Pressures

     IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivitySpecies RichnessEvidence/Confidence
    High Moderate Moderate Major decline Low
    All the key and important species in the biotope exhibit high intolerance to substratum loss. Sabellaria alveolata, the key structural species has moderate recoverability.
    Intermediate High Low Major decline High
    Sabellaria alveolata, the key structural species has only low intolerance to smothering. Wilson (1971) reported Sabellaria reefs surviving burial for a few days or even weeks. However, the important structural (Fucus serratus) and functional species (Littorina littorea) are both highly intolerant. Both Sabellaria alveolata and Fucus serratus are likely to recover from smothering within a few years.
    Intermediate High Low Decline Moderate
    The intermediate intolerance of the functional grazing species Littorina littorea means that siltation may indirectly cause increased growth of algae on Sabellaria alveolata reefs, contributing to their more rapid breakdown through water action. Variability in recruitment of Sabellaria alveolata (dependent on suitable environmental conditions) means that recovery could take a few years. The presence of some remaining adult worms will assist in Sabellaria alveolata larval settlement as this is the preferred substratum (Wilson, 1929).
    High Moderate Moderate Major decline Moderate
    The key structural species Sabellaria alveolata is intermediately intolerant of increases in desiccation. Fucus serratus occurs in a fairly specific zone on the lower shore. Increases in desiccation will probably result in high intolerance of this seaweed. Lower densities of algae growing on Sabellaria alveolata reefs may increase the time that the reef remains intact before being broken up through wave action. Loss of the seaweed will have consequential effects such as the loss of other species using the weed as substratum, including Littorina littorea. Sabellaria alveolata, the key structural species has moderate recoverability.
    High Moderate Moderate Major decline Moderate
    The key structural species Sabellaria alveolata is intermediately intolerant of increases in emergence. Fucus serratus occurs in a fairly specific zone on the lower shore. Increases in emergence will probably result in high intolerance of this seaweed. Lower densities of algae growing on Sabellaria alveolata reefs may increase the time that the reef remains intact before being broken up through wave action. Loss of the seaweed will have consequential effects such as the loss of other species using the weed as substratum, including Littorina littorea. Sabellaria alveolata, the key structural species has moderate recoverability.
    Intermediate High Low Minor decline Moderate
    Decreases in water flow rate will result in lower levels of suspended sediment and intermediate intolerance for Sabellaria alveolata but will have no effect on Fucus serratus or Littorina littorea. Increases in water flow may benefit Sabellaria alveolata but be detrimental for the other important species.
    Intermediate High Low Decline Moderate
    Sabellaria alveolata, the key structural species is intermediately intolerant of short term acute decreases in temperature. Variability in recruitment of Sabellaria alveolata (dependent on suitable environmental conditions) means that recovery could take a few years. The presence of some remaining adult worms will assist in Sabellaria alveolata larval settlement as this is the preferred substratum (Wilson 1929).
    Low Very high Very Low No change Moderate
    Fucus serratus and Littorina littorea have low intolerance to increases in turbidity. Recoverability and restoration of condition should occur in less than six months.
    High High Moderate Major decline Moderate
    Increases in wave exposure cause high intolerance in Fucus serratus and intermediate intolerance in Littorina littorea and Sabellaria alveolata. Variability in recruitment of Sabellaria alveolata (dependent on suitable environmental conditions) means that recovery could take a few years. The presence of some remaining adult worms will assist in Sabellaria alveolata larval settlement as this is the preferred substratum (Wilson, 1929). Recoverability of both the seaweed and the snail is high.
    Tolerant Not relevant Not relevant No change High
    None of the selected important or characterizing species in the biotope are recorded as sensitive to noise.
    Tolerant Not relevant Not relevant No change High
    None of the selected important or characterizing species in the biotope are recorded as sensitive to visual presence.
    Intermediate High Low Decline Moderate
    Cunningham et al. (1984) examined the effects of trampling on Sabellaria alveolata reefs. The reef recovered within 23 days from the effects of trampling, (i.e. treading, walking or stamping on the reef structures) repairing minor damage to the worm tube porches. However, severe damage, estimated by kicking and jumping on the reef structure, resulted in large cracks between the tubes, and removal of sections (ca 15x15x10 cm) of the structure (Cunningham et al., 1984). Subsequent wave action enlarged the holes or cracks. However, after 23 days, at one site, one side of the hole had begun to repair, and tubes had begun to extend into the eroded area. At another site, a smaller section (10x10x10 cm) was lost but after 23 days the space was already smaller due to rapid growth. Cunningham et al. (1984) reported that Sabellaria alveolata reefs were more tolerant of trampling than expected but noted that cracks could leave the reef subsceptible to erosion and lead to large sections of the reef being washed away. However, eroded sections can survive and may lead to colonization of previously unsettled areas. The strange sculpturing of colonies in some areas is probably due to a combination of erosion and recovery (Cunningham et al., 1984).

    Continuous trampling may be more detrimental. For example, Holt et al. (1998) reported that, in Brittany, damage to reefs on popular beaches was limited to gaps created by trampling through the reef. Once gaps are formed, they may be enlarged by wave action. The main cause of colony destruction is through wave action. Cunningham et al. (1984) also noted that collection of Sabellaria alveolata, although a rare occurrence, may be particularly damaged as it will involve removal of sections of the reef. Trampling has been reported to reduce fucoid cover (Holt et al., 1997). Similarly, littorinids will be probably displaced and very occasionally crushed by trampling, although at the population level the effects are probably minimal. Therefore, trampling and other physical disturbance can potentially remove a proportion of the reef and an intolerance of intermediate has been recorded. Variability in Sabellaria alveolata recruitment (dependent on suitable environmental conditions) means that recovery could take a several years. The presence of remaining adults will assist in larval settlement, as this is the preferred substratum (Wilson, 1929). Therefore recoverability has been assessed as high.

    High Moderate Moderate Major decline High
    Sabellaria alveolata, the key structural species of the biotope has high intolerance to and moderate recoverability from displacement.

    Chemical Pressures

     IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityRichnessEvidence/Confidence
    Low Very high Very Low Minor decline Low
    Littorina littorea has low intolerance to Tri-butyl tin. There is insufficient information to make an assessment for the other two selected species. The biotope intolerance and recoverability is therefore represented by the periwinkle.
    Heavy metal contamination
    Intermediate High Low Decline Moderate
    Because there is insufficient information on Sabellaria alveolata (key species) intolerance to heavy metal contamination, biotope intolerance is represented by the intolerance of the important species, Littorina littorea to mercury chloride contamination.
    Hydrocarbon contamination
    Intermediate High Low Decline Moderate
    Because there is insufficient information on Sabellaria alveolata (key species) intolerance to hydrocarbon contamination, biotope intolerance is represented by the intolerance of the important species, Littorina littorea and Fucus serratus. Gastropods have been noted to recover quite quickly (by the next year) from oil spill events such as Amoco Cadiz.
    Radionuclide contamination
    No information No information No information Insufficient
    information
    Not relevant
    There is insufficient information available on all three selected species to be able to make an intolerance assessment for the biotope.
    Changes in nutrient levels
    Low Very high Very Low No change Moderate
    Nutrient availability is a very important factor in regulating Fucus serratus growth. Increases in nutrient levels may favour growth of the seaweed and decreases may limit growth. Following resumption of normal nutrient conditions, the seaweed will probably recover within a few months.
    Intermediate High Low Decline Low
    Sabellaria alveolata inhabits fully marine environments and has intermediate intolerance to decreases in salinity. The species must though be able to tolerate some variation in salinity due to exposure to precipitation in the intertidal.
    Intermediate High Low Decline Low
    Sabellaria alveolata has intermediate intolerance to decreases in oxygenation. Cole et al. (1999) suggest possible adverse effects on marine species below 4 mg/l and probable adverse effects below 2mg/l. There is no information about Sabellaria alveolata tolerance to increases in oxygenation.

    Biological Pressures

     IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityRichnessEvidence/Confidence
    No information No information No information Insufficient
    information
    Not relevant
    Insufficient
    information
    No information No information No information Insufficient
    information
    Not relevant
    Insufficient
    information
    Intermediate High Low Decline Moderate
    Extraction of Sabellaria alveolata by bait digging is a possibility. Fucus serratus and Littorina littorea are also subject to extraction. Bait digging for other species, such as crabs, that live within crevices and cracks of Sabellaria alveolata reefs (as has been noted to occur in Portugal) may cause damage to other species in the biotope. Overall, it is more than likely that individuals of each species will remain and intolerance has been assessed as intermediate. Recovery is likely to be high.
    Intermediate High Low Decline Moderate

    Additional information

    -

    Importance review

    Policy/Legislation

    Habitats of Principal ImportanceSabellaria alveolata reefs
    Habitats of Conservation ImportanceHoneycomb worm reefs
    Habitats Directive Annex 1Reefs
    UK Biodiversity Action Plan PrioritySabellaria alveolata reefs

    Exploitation

    Sabellaria alveolata reefs are sometimes exploited by fishermen as a source of bait although this is only carried out on a very small scale.

    Additional information

    -

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    Citation

    This review can be cited as:

    Jackson, A. 2005. Sabellaria alveolata reefs on sand-abraded eulittoral rock. 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/351

    Last Updated: 24/02/2005