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

Neomysis integer and Gammarus spp. in variable salinity infralittoral mobile sand

24-05-2002
Researched byGeorgina Budd Refereed byThis information is not refereed.
EUNIS CodeA5.223 EUNIS NameNeomysis integer and Gammarus spp. in fluctuating low salinity infralittoral mobile sand

Summary

UK and Ireland classification

EUNIS 2008A5.223Neomysis integer and Gammarus spp. in fluctuating low salinity infralittoral mobile sand
EUNIS 2006A5.223Neomysis integer and Gammarus spp. in fluctuating low salinity infralittoral mobile sand
JNCC 2004SS.SSa.SSaVS.NintGamNeomysis integer and Gammarus spp. in variable salinity infralittoral mobile sand
1997 BiotopeSS.IGS.EstGS.NeoGamNeomysis integer and Gammarus spp. in low salinity infralittoral mobile sand

Description

Upper estuary mobile sands with very low fluctuating salinity characterized by the mysid shrimp Neomysis integer and amphipods of the genus Gammarus spp. The harsh physicochemical regime imposed by such environmental conditions in the upper estuary leads to a relatively impoverished community but high densities of the mobile, salinity-tolerant, crustaceans can occur. The biotope is found in the transitional zone between freshwater and brackish environments, relying on the decreased freshwater input during the summer for penetration of the brackish species up-stream. As such this biotope may also contain elements of freshwater communities. It may be found in conjunction with IMU.LimTtub, although it lacks appreciable numbers of oligochaetes. The biotope occurs in a similar habitat to IGS.MobRS although it is more affected by lower salinity. (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

The upper Humber and Thames estuaries in the brackish-water, sublittoral zone.

Depth range

0-5 m, 5-10 m

Additional information

Neomysis integer and Gammarus salinus are not benthic species and usually live just above the seabed.

Listed By

Further information sources

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JNCC

Habitat review

Ecology

Ecological and functional relationships

In the estuarine environment the highly mobile macrofauna comprises two ecologically distinct groupings: those (mainly invertebrate) species permanently resident within an estuary, and those (mainly vertebrate) species entering estuaries principally to feed at high or low tide, e.g. fish and birds respectively (Barnes, 1974).
  • Infralittoral mobile sands provide prey for demersal fishes. Prey especially includes mobile small crustaceans which migrate from the sediment and become available to predators. The mysid shrimp, Neomysis integer is important as food for fish, especially for juvenile flounder, Platichthys flesus, in the upper parts of estuaries (Costa & Elliott, 1999; Bell, 1990).
  • Estuarine biotope complexes may be used by important wintering and passage birds for feeding (Elliot et al., 1998).
  • Neomysis integer may be parasitized by the third larval stage of the nematode Thynnascaria adunca (Astthorsson, 1980). Both Gammarus salinus and Gammarus zaddachi are important host species for the transmission of fish and bird parasites (Voigt, 1991).
  • Gammarus salinus has a documented role as a seaweed disperser (Breeman & Hoeksema, 1987). The red seaweed Audouinella purpurea was able to survive digestion by Gammarus salinus and grew in the field from faecal pellets.

Seasonal and longer term change

  • The abundance of the important characterizing species may vary according to the season, for instance in the Severn Estuary, Neomysis integer over-wintered at relatively low densities in comparison to the summer, when brooding females swarmed inshore (Moore et al., 1979).
  • Seasonal storm events are likely to change sediment distribution significantly.

Habitat structure and complexity

The habitat is not complex and consists of mobile usually coarse sand. The sand provides shelter for a very small variety of mobile species that live 'loosely' amongst the sand grains, e.g. Gammarus salinus. Over the sand the habitat for Neomysis integer is the water column, and whether or not sand is important to Neomysis integer is not clear.

Productivity

The physical environment of infralittoral mobile sands with strong currents is on the whole too harsh for vegetation to become established. Therefore such environments are less productive with lower levels of organic matter. Microphytobenthos may be supported in the interstices of the sand grains in the uppermost millimetres of illuminated sediments, typically appearing as a subtle brownish or greenish staining (Elliott et al., 1998), whilst macroalgae that have become detached from rocky substrata elsewhere may wash up in the estuary, eventually decomposing and contributing to the energy budget of the system. However, the principle source of production in the estuarine environment is secondary, derived from detritus and allochthonous organic matter, which is utilized by the fauna.

Recruitment processes

Neomysis integer and Gammarus salinus are the only two species with significant populations regularly recorded from this biotope. Both species are capable of migration over some distance and therefore colonization by adults from other biotopes is likely to occur.
  • Neomysis integer reaches maturity within 2 - 3 months of release form the females brood pouch (marsuipum). It breeds between spring and autumn and typically produces three generations per year, two during the summer and one in the autumn which over-winters. In most populations of Neomysis integer breeding ceases in winter, with the exception of the population from Loch Etive, Scotland, which bred continuously throughout the year, although at low intensity (Mauchline, 1971). Neomysis integer has a lifespan of less than a year.
  • Gammarus salinus typically produces two generations per year. Mature females were found from late November through to late July and the main reproduction period occurred during the winter (Leineweber, 1985). Juveniles were most numerous from April through to July, and in the warmer months between July and October a relatively stable population was attained. Gammarus salinus also has a lifespan of less than a year.

Time for community to reach maturity

Little evidence concerning community development was found. However, it is expected that the community, which consists entirely of swimming species, could establish very rapidly as migration from other populations would occur in addition to any larval recruitment. The length of time for recruitment to occur might be a few hours but 'maturity' would not be expected for several weeks in the case of extensive defaunation of the substratum.

Additional information

No text entered.

Preferences & Distribution

Recorded distribution in Britain and IrelandThe upper Humber and Thames estuaries in the brackish-water, sublittoral zone.

Habitat preferences

Depth Range 0-5 m, 5-10 m
Water clarity preferences
Limiting Nutrients No information found
Salinity Low (<18 psu)
Physiographic Enclosed coast / Embayment
Biological Zone Infralittoral
Substratum Sand
Tidal Moderately Strong 1 to 3 knots (0.5-1.5 m/sec.), Strong 3 to 6 knots (1.5-3 m/sec.)
Wave Extremely sheltered, Very sheltered
Other preferences

Additional Information

None

Species composition

Species found especially in this biotope

    Rare or scarce species associated with this biotope

    -

    Additional information

    No text entered.

    Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

    Explanation

    Neomysis integerand the Gammarus species are considered to be important characterizing species of the IGS.NeoGam biotope. The biotope is typically species poor, the species present being robust errant forms, in their absence the biotope would be particularly barren and not necessarily recognised.

    Species indicative of sensitivity

    Community ImportanceSpecies nameCommon Name
    Important characterizingGammarus salinusA gammarid shrimp
    Important characterizingGammarus zaddachiA gammarid shrimp
    Important characterizingNeomysis integerOpossum shrimp

    Physical Pressures

     IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivitySpecies RichnessEvidence/Confidence
    High Very high Low Decline Low
    The important characterizing species may be relatively unaffected by substratum loss as they are mobile and rest upon the surface as opposed to burrowing into it, so would probably relocate. However, intolerance of the biotope to substratum loss has been assessed to be high owing to the fact that at the benchmark level all of the substratum is removed by an activity such as dredging and in the absence of the sand the biotope would not necessarily be recognized. The biotope should recover assuming that sand is re-deposited, therefore recoverability has been assessed to be very high.
    Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant
    The important characterizing species of the biotope are mobile, able to both swim and crawl and would therefore probably escape smothering. Consequently an intolerance assessment of not relevant has been made.
    Tolerant Not relevant Not relevant No change Moderate
    In the estuarine environment the concentration of suspended sediment is typically very high. Increased suspended sediment may bring additional food for Neomysis integer which suspension feeds upon phytoplankton and detrital material, although an excess of suspended matter may also have some adverse effects, e.g. clogging feeding structures. However on balance, an assessment of not sensitive at the benchmark level has been suggested.
    Tolerant Immediate Not sensitive* Rise Low
    A decrease in suspended sediment would reduce the detrital food source available to the species, but at the benchmark level a decrease in suspended sediment is not likely to have a detectable effect on survival of the important characterizing species for a period of one month and an assessment of not sensitive has been made.
    Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant
    The biotope is subtidal and therefore desiccation is not relevant.
    Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant
    The biotope is subtidal and therefore a change in the emergence regime was not considered to be relevant.
    Not sensitive* Not relevant
    The biotope is subtidal and therefore a change in the emergence regime was not considered to be relevant.
    High Very high Low Major decline Moderate
    Neomysis integer actively seeks regions where water flow rate is not in excess of 0.2 knots (10 cm/sec) such as at the waters edge or boundary layer. Normally the biotope experiences strong to moderately strong water flow rates and the benchmark increase would expose the community to currents in excess of 6 knots (> 3 m/sec). Species present in the biotope would probably experience difficulty in maintaining a position and be washed from the biotope. Sand is also likely to be swept away by increased tidal flow. In the absence of the important characterizing species the biotope would not be recognised and intolerance has therefore been assessed to be high. On resumption of a normal flow regime the species that may have been lost will probably recolonize from adjacent areas and recovery has been assessed to be very high assuming suitable substrate is deposited.
    Tolerant Not relevant No change Low
    A decrease in water flow rate, in the absence of wave action determining substratum type would probably favour the accretion of finer silts and clays which, over a period of a year may serve to stabilise the surface sediment and enable the colonization of oligochaetes tolerant of conditions of low fluctuating salinity such as Limnodrilus hoffmeisteri and Tubifex tubifex. Consequently the biotope may no longer be recognisable and intolerance to a decreased water flow rate has been assessed to be high. Resumption of moderately strong to strong water flow rates would winnow away fine particulate matter that had accumulated and probably suppress the viability of species not normally present in the biotope, therefore recovery is likely to be high.
    Intermediate Very high Low Decline Moderate
    Specimens of Gammarus salinus were tolerant of temperature fluctuations between 8 °C and 20 °C over a period of up to four weeks, acute temperature changes caused additional stress but did not result in mortality (Furch, 1972). The distribution of Neomysis integer extends to the south of the UK, along the Atlantic coast of Spain so the species may be able to tolerate a chronic change of 2 °C. However, Kuhlman (1984) found that over-wintering and summer generations of Neomysis integer had different upper temperature tolerances. Consequently, an acute increase in temperature may be particularly damaging to the population during the spring when the over-wintering population commences breeding than at other times of the year. Intolerance of the biotope fauna to an acute increase in temperature has been assessed to be intermediate. Recovery of the fauna is likely to be relatively rapid as recruitment will occur within in the year along with migration of the important characterizing species from other adjacent biotopes.
    Intermediate Very high Low Decline Very low
    The distribution of both Neomysis integer and Gammarus salinus extends to the north of the UK, so the fauna of the biotope would probably be tolerant of a chronic decrease in temperature of 2 °C. Acute decreases in temperature may cause death of vulnerable proportions of the population owing to additional stress, e.g. those that are parasitized, and intolerance has been assessed to be intermediate. Recovery of the fauna is likely to be relatively rapid as recruitment will occur within the year along with migration of the important characterizing species from other adjacent biotopes
    Tolerant Not relevant Not relevant No change High
    The Humber Estuary, in which the IGS.NeoGam biotope occurs is naturally highly turbid (Uncles et al., 2001). On a spring ebb tide in November 1995 concentrations of surface suspended particulate matter (SPM) were measured to be from 6 in the upper estuary to 13 g per litre at the confluence with the River Ouse which, would drastically reduce light penetration. Consequently, it is unlikely that the benchmark increase in turbidity would be of significance to the fauna and the biotope has been assessed not to be sensitive.
    Tolerant Not sensitive* No change
    Estuarine waters such as that of the Humber, in which the IGS.NeoGam biotope occurs, are typically turbid. The benchmark decrease in turbidity is unlikely to be of any significance to the fauna of the biotope and an assessment of not sensitive has been made.
    High Moderate Moderate Major decline Moderate
    The biotope occurs in very sheltered to extremely sheltered locations where tidal flow is normally more important than wave action as a structuring factor. Increased wave exposure would probably result in displacement of the substratum. Over one year, sufficient layers of the substratum might be lost so that the biotope substratum changes to a different one, e.g. exposed rock. The important characterizing species, Neomysis integer and Gammarus spp. are relatively robust, epibenthic mobile species whose presence in the biotope is not especially determined by the nature of the substratum. However, they both utilize surface features and aggregate at the shallow waters edge in order to seek shelter from faster currents against which they cannot swim. Wave induced turbulence is likely to displace them and they may be washed from the biotope. Owing to the combination of a change in biotope substratum and potential loss of important characterizing species intolerance to increased wave exposure has been assessed to be high as the biotope would not be recognised. The important characterizing species have a very high capacity for recovery but owing to removal of the sandy substratum recovery of the biotope as a whole is likely to take longer and has been assessed to be moderate.
    Tolerant Not relevant No change Low
    The biotope occurs in very sheltered to extremely sheltered locations where tidal flow is probably more important than wave action as a structuring factor. A reduction in wave action is therefore unlikely to have a significant effect. Therefore the biotope has been assessed to be not sensitive.
    Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive No change Low
    Gammarus spp. and Neomysis integer may respond to vibrations caused by noise, but are likely to be not sensitive to noise at the benchmark level.
    Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive No change Low
    Gammarus spp. and Neomysis integer are unlikely to have the visual acuity to detect the presence of for instance boats travelling over the biotope. although, it is likely that they observe predators and react to them. An assessment of visual presence is related to human activity to which the community is considered to be not sensitive.
    Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive No change High
    Elliot et al. (1998) reported that subtidal mobile sand banks were colonized by infaunal or epifaunal small bivalves, crustaceans and polychaetes adapted to a changeable hydrography and substratum. Species living in mobile substrata are able to reburrow quickly after being washed out of the sediment, e.g. Nephtys cirrhosa and amphipods. Continual sediment disturbance results in a large number of opportunistic species, e.g. Chaetozone setosa (Elliot et al., 1998). Subtidal mobile sandbanks are the result of high energy conditions and naturally disturbed by hydrographic conditions such as storms. Therefore, Elliot et al. (1998) suggested that the community is likely to recover from sediment disturbance, since the associated species are predominately mobile, able to tolerate sediment movement, and the influx of sediment from natural or man-made sources (e.g. dredged spoil). For example, Jennings & Kaiser (1998) reported that in experiments in the Irish Sea, the effects of beam trawl disturbance could not be detected in mobile sediments, which was attributed to the levels of natural disturbance in megaripple habitats. Animals living in the troughs of sediment ripples were less likely to be disturbed by since fishing gear rode over the crests of the sand waves (Jennings & Kaiser, 1998). Therefore, an assessment of not sensitive has been recorded.
    Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant
    The important characterizing species of the IGS.NeoGam are mobile species, therefore an intolerance assessment for displacement was not considered relevant.

    Chemical Pressures

     IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityRichnessEvidence/Confidence
    Intermediate Very high Low Decline High
    Estuaries may receive effluent discharges which contain a variety of synthetic chemicals. In general, crustaceans are widely reported to be intolerant of synthetic chemicals (Cole et al., 1999). Neomysis integer was found to be intolerant of exposure to the organophosphate pesticide, Chlorpyrifos. Following 7 days of exposure to a concentration of 0.038 µg /l, its swimming behaviour was disrupted, an effect which would compromise the ability of Neomysis integer to maintain its position in the estuarine environment (Roast et al., 2000b). In addition, synthetic chemicals have been reported to affect species of Gammarus related to Gammarus salinus. Pentachlorophenol (PCP) and benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P) impaired swimming stamina and disrupted embryo development in Chaetogammarus marinus (Lawrence & Poulter, 2001). Owing to the likelihood of a consequential reduction in abundance and viability of the crustacean populations in the biotope, intolerance has been assessed to be intermediate. The important characterizing species have a very high capacity for recovery assuming degradation of the synthetic contaminants.
    Heavy metal contamination
    Intermediate Very high Low Decline High
    The salinity-temperature dependent toxicity of cadmium and other heavy metals to marine and estuarine invertebrates is well documented (reviewed in McLusky et al., 1986). Wildgust & Jones (1998) found that mortalities of Neomysis integer resulting from free cadmium ion exposure were greater at salinities of 28 and 12 psu than at 20 psu. However, the swimming behaviour and orientation of Neomysis integer was disrupted following exposure to 0.5 µg Cd (aq)2+ per litre, a significantly lower cadmium concentration than that causing mortality (Roast et al., 2000). The significance of this sub-lethal effect is that Neomysis integer would be unable to maintain its position within the estuary, resulting in reduced abundance of the population. Similarly, Lawrence & Poulter (2001) observed disrupted embryogenesis and swimming stamina in Chaetogammarus marinus, a species related to Gammarus salinus. Intolerance of the biotope fauna has been assessed to be intermediate owing to reduced abundance as a result of reduced swimming ability. The important characterizing species have a very high capacity for recovery assuming degradation of the synthetic contaminants.
    Hydrocarbon contamination
    High Very high Low Major decline Moderate
    Amphipods are generally very sensitive to oil pollution (Suchanek, 1993). Ponat (1975) observed the narcotic effect of crude oil on Gammarus salinus, which reduced the species oxygen consumption to 40 % of normal levels. Lindén (1976) also observed narcosis in Gammarus oceanicus, a species related to Gammarus salinus, exposed to concentrations of oil between 5 to 20 mg /l, which followed an initial period of hectic swimming and then deterioration of crawling ability. Furthermore, sub-lethal concentrations of crude oil (1-40 µg/l) proved to be responsible for a reduction in the numbers of sexually mature adults of Gammarus oceanicus entering precopula, a requirement for successful fertilization (Lindén, 1976b). The intolerance of the biotope to hydrocarbon contamination has been assessed to be high owing to the probable destruction of the important characterizing Gammarus species.
    Radionuclide contamination
    No information Not relevant No information Not relevant Not relevant
    Radionuclides can accumulate within substrata. However, there is little information concerning their biological effects (Cole et al., 1999).
    Changes in nutrient levels
    Tolerant* Not relevant Not sensitive* Not relevant Very low
    Primary productivity within in the biotope is extremely limited. Nutrient enrichment at the benchmark level which directly or indirectly enhances the supply of detrital organic material available to the fauna for consumption is likely to be beneficial and an intolerance assessment of not sensitive * has been made.
    High Immediate Very Low Rise Low
    Neomysis integer and Gammarus salinus are euryhaline species. However, whilst Gammarus salinus may tolerate salinities of 30 psu, Neomysis integer was found to have an upper salinity tolerance between 20-25 psu, with death occurring at 30 psu (Kuhlman, 1984). An intolerance assessment of high has been made owing to the fact that the biotope is characterized by species tolerant of lower salinities, increased salinity would cause physiological stress to the important characterizing species and favour the establishment of fully marine species and the IGS.NeoGam biotope would temporarily not be recognised. On return to a brackish water salinity regime, recovery of the important characterizing species has been assessed to be very high owing to immigration and rapid reproduction.
    High Immediate Moderate Rise Low
    Neomysis integer is tolerant of salinities as low as 0.5 psu (Koepke & Kausch, 1996) and Gammarus salinus can tolerate a salinity of 2 psu. A further reduction in salinity at the extreme of their salinity tolerance range would expose them to freshwater. Neomysis integer successfully made the transition to freshwater environments but presumably over an extended period of time. An intolerance assessment of high has been made as freshwater species may successfully penetrate the biotope and the IGS.NeoGam biotope would temporarily not be recognised. On return to a brackish water salinity regime, recovery of the important characterizing species has been assessed to be very high owing to migration and rapid reproduction.
    High Immediate Very Low Major decline Moderate
    Gammarus salinus demonstrated negative rheotaxis (swimming away ) in response to a current of sub-lethal and lethal concentrations of oxygen (Vobis, 1973). It is also probable that as a mobile species Neomysis integer would also avoid decreased oxygen concentrations to which it is intolerant. Consequently, in the absence of the important characterizing species the biotope would temporarily not be recognized and intolerance has been assessed to be high. On return to prior conditions, repopulation is likely to occur rapidly as the species move into feed.

    Biological Pressures

     IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityRichnessEvidence/Confidence
    No information Not relevant No information Not relevant Not relevant
    Neomysis integer may be parasitized by the third larval stage of the nematode Thynnascaria adunca (Astthorsson, 1980). Both Gammarus salinus and Gammarus zaddachi are important host species for the transmission of fish and bird parasites (Voigt, 1991).
    No information Not relevant No information Not relevant Not relevant
    No information concerning non-native species that might affect the abundance or survival of the important characterizing species of the IGS.NeoGam biotope was found.
    Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant
    It is extremely unlikely that any of the species indicative of sensitivity would be targeted for extraction and we have no evidence for the indirect effects of extraction of other species on this biotope.
    Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant

    Additional information

    Recoverability
    No evidence concerning community development was found. However, it is expected that the community, which consists entirely of swimming species, could establish very rapidly as migration from other populations would occur in addition to any larval recruitment. The length of time for recruitment to occur might be a few hours but 'maturity' would not be expected for several weeks in the case of extensive defaunation of the substratum. Recoverability has therefore been assessed to be very high in general.

    Importance review

    Policy/Legislation

    Habitats of Principal ImportanceSubtidal sands and gravels
    Habitats of Conservation ImportanceSubtidal sands and gravels
    Habitats Directive Annex 1Estuaries, Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time
    UK Biodiversity Action Plan PrioritySubtidal sands and gravels

    Exploitation

    None

    Additional information

    -

    Bibliography

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    2. Astthorsson, O.S., 1980. The life history and ecological energetics of Neomysis integer (Leach) (Crustacea, Mysidacea). , Ph.D. thesis, University of Aberdeen.
    3. Attrill, M.J., 1990. The Thames estuary benthic programme: a site by site report of the quarterly macrofauna surveys April 1989 - March 1990. , Unpublished, National Rivers Authority, Thames Region Biology Report.
    4. Bell, A.A., 1990. Population structure, feeding habits and parasites of flounder, Platichthys flesus L. in the upper Forth estuary. , BSc Hons. thesis, University of Stirling. 97pp.
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    14. Koepcke, B. & Kausch, H., 1996. Distribution and variability in abundance of Neomysis integer and Mesopodopsis slabberi (Mysidacea; Crustacea) in relation to environmental factors in the Elbe Estuary. Archiv fur Hydrobiologie. Supplementband. Untersuchungen des Elbe-Aestuars. Stuggart, 110, 263-282.
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    Citation

    This review can be cited as:

    Budd, G.C. 2002. Neomysis integer and Gammarus spp. in variable salinity infralittoral mobile 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. Available from: http://www.marlin.ac.uk/habitat/detail/51

    Last Updated: 24/05/2002