MarLIN

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

Sand goby (Pomatoschistus minutus)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.

Summary

Description

The sand goby is a small goby, reaching a maximum of 10 cm in length. It has a slender body and the head is about a quarter of the total length. It is pale brown or grey in colour with darker markings on the sides. The underside is creamy-white in colour. Males often have a prominent dark blue spot on the rear of the first dorsal fin.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

The sand goby is abundant along all British and Irish coasts.

Global distribution

Its distribution extends from the eastern Atlantic (Tromso, Norway) to the Mediterranean and areas of the Baltic Sea.

Habitat

Pomatoschistus minutus is found on sandy or muddy bottoms usually to a depth of about 20 m, but sometimes occurring up to 60-70 m depths. They are usually present in estuaries, lagoons, salt marshes and along coastal waters.

Depth range

Up to 20 m (sometimes up to 60-70 m)

Identifying features

  • The sand goby has large eyes that are positioned high on the side of the head.
  • There are scales present on the nape and neck.
  • Upper rays of pectoral fins have membrane to their tips.
  • Tail is rounded, narrow and long.
  • Pelvic fins are united to form a crescent-shaped disc.
  • Anterior dorsal fin has 6-7 spines.
  • Posterior dorsal fin has 1 spine and 10-12 rays.
  • There are 55-75 scales in a line from base of pectoral fin to tail fin.

Additional information

Pomatoschistus minutus is a very abundant fish which is present along all British and Irish coasts. Its distribution extends from the eastern Atlantic (Tromso, Norway) to the Mediterranean and to areas of the Baltic Sea. Pomatoschistus minutus is a spawning and thermal migratory species. It is usually found on sandy or muddy bottoms to a depth of about 20 m, but may occur up to 60-70 m depths.

Pomatoschistus minutus is sometimes considered to form a species complex with Pomatoschistus norvegicus and Pomatoschistus lozanoi. Pomatoschistus lozanoi is morphologically intermediate between the other forms and may interbreed with them in the wild (Webb, 1980). However, evidence suggests that back-crossing of the resultant hybrids does not occur and Pomatoschistus lozanoi is genetically distinct from the other forms (Webb, 1980).

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Biology review

Taxonomy

PhylumChordata
ClassActinopterygii
OrderPerciformes
FamilyGobiidae
GenusPomatoschistus
Authority(Pallas, 1770)
Recent Synonyms

Biology

Typical abundanceHigh density
Male size rangeup to 10cm
Male size at maturity4cm
Female size range4cm
Female size at maturity
Growth formPisciform
Growth rateNo information found
Body flexibilityHigh (greater than 45 degrees)
Mobility
Characteristic feeding methodPredator
Diet/food source
Typically feeds onSmall polychaetes, cumaceans, amphipods and mysids.
Sociability
Environmental positionDemersal
DependencyIndependent.
SupportsNone
Is the species harmful?No

Biology information

  • The sand goby usually remains inactive, except when feeding (Fonds & Veldhuis, 1973). Pomatoschistus minutus feeds on small polychaetes, cumaceans, amphipods and mysids. Depending on the bottom type, it has been noted to show colour adaptations (Aquascope, 2000b), and has also been noted to burrow into the sediment to avoid predators (Magnhagen & Forsgren, 1991).
  • The sand goby is a small goby, reaching a maximum of 10 cm in length. Males are generally longer than females (Quignard et al., 1983). Growth is slower in winter in the Atlantic, and slower in the summer in the Mediterranean (Quignard et al., 1983). Larvae gradually spend more and more time on the bottom, and at a length of approximately 17-18 mm they are usually fully adapted to the benthic way of life.
  • Although of no commercial importance itself, it is incidentally caught in abundance in French Mediterranean lagoons (Quignard et al., 1983).

Habitat preferences

Physiographic preferencesOpen coast, Estuary, Isolated saline water (Lagoon), Enclosed coast / Embayment
Biological zone preferencesLower infralittoral, Sublittoral fringe, Upper infralittoral
Substratum / habitat preferencesCoarse clean sand, Fine clean sand, Mixed, Mud, Muddy sand, Sandy mud
Tidal strength preferences
Wave exposure preferencesExposed, Moderately exposed, Sheltered
Salinity preferencesFull (30-40 psu), Variable (18-40 psu)
Depth rangeUp to 20 m (sometimes up to 60-70 m)
Other preferencesNo text entered
Migration PatternSeasonal (environment), Seasonal (reproduction)

Habitat Information

  • The sand goby is considered to be an abundant species, found along all coasts of the British Isles. It can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and salinities, shown by its distribution from Norway and the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean, and the fact that it resides in brackish and fully saline waters. It is usually found in deeper waters and at higher salinities than Pomatoschistus microps.
  • Fonds (1973) showed that adult sand gobies tolerate salinities between 0.9 psu and 45 psu and that they survived and remained in good condition at a temperature as low as 2 °C. However, in the Thames estuary they preferred high salinity and high suspended solids concentrations (Araújo et al., 2000).
  • Pomatoschistus minutus is a migratory species of semi-enclosed lagoon-like environments (Pampoulie et al., 1999). It has been noted to undertake spawning migrations in the Mediterranean Sea (Bouchereau et al., 1989) and thermal migrations in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea (Fonds, 1973; Hesthagen, 1977). Thermal migrations occur when temperatures decrease below 4-5 °C (Fonds, 1973) or increase above 19 °C (Hesthagen, 1977). In the Thames estuary an increase in numbers has been noted during autumn and winter (Araújo et al., 2000). In the Severn estuary, however, goby numbers declined in winter. This was suspected to have reflected a movement away from the shallows and towards deeper, warmer water (Claridge et al., 1985). Healey (1971) observed a scarcity of sand gobies in the Ythan estuary from February to June and, after eliminating decreased temperature, a change in salinity or a change in food supply as a cause, suggested that it was a result of a seasonal migration. Healey (1971) hypothesized that the gobies migrated out to sea so that eggs could develop, however, the hypothesis was subsequently rejected.

Life history

Adult characteristics

Reproductive typeGonochoristic (dioecious)
Reproductive frequency Annual protracted
Fecundity (number of eggs)1,000-10,000
Generation time1-2 years
Age at maturity7 months to a year old
SeasonFebruary - July
Life span1-2 years

Larval characteristics

Larval/propagule type-
Larval/juvenile development Oviparous
Duration of larval stage2-10 days
Larval dispersal potential Greater than 10 km
Larval settlement periodInsufficient information

Life history information

  • The sand goby becomes sexually mature at about 7 months to a year old (Miller, 1986; Bouchereau et al., 1990). At this time, individuals measure approximately 4 cm (Bouchereau et al., 1990). Reproduction involves repeat spawning between February and May in Britain, and March to July in the Baltic Sea (Miller, 1986). The female usually lays her eggs under empty bivalve shells and the male proceeds to guard them. Males care for approximately 2 egg batches at the same time, belonging to different females (Kvarnemo, 1994), and females respawn with an interval of about 1 to 2 weeks (Kvarnemo, 1998). Fecundity is reported as between 2,878 - 3,000 eggs by Miller (1986) and between 998 and 5100 by Bouchereau et al. (1990).
  • Pomatoschistus minutus spawns at 8 to 15 °C, lower than that of the Pomatoschistus microps (Wiederholm, 1987). In the Atlantic reproduction is protracted (Bouchereau & Guelorget, 1998; Rogers, 1989) and in the Mediterranean it is contracted (Bouchereau & Guelorget, 1998).
  • The lifespan of the sand goby is approximately 1.3 to 2 years (Miller, 1986). Quignard et al. (1983) recorded lifespans of the sand goby as 12 to 14 months in the Mediterranean and up to 22 months in the Atlantic.

Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

Physical pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
Low High Low Moderate
Adult Pomatoschistus minutus live on inshore sandy and muddy substrata in open coastal areas, whereas juveniles are found in lower estuaries. The sand goby has been noted to show colour adaptations, depending on the bottom type (Aquascope, 2000), and has also been noted to burrow into the sediment when under attack (Magnhagen & Forsgren, 1991). Their substratum is therefore important to them for the purpose of protection. Loss of substrata may cause a proportion of the species to die. However, adults are sufficiently mobile and will be able to recolonize areas which contain suitable substrata. A low intolerance to substratum loss is recorded. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
Intermediate High Low Moderate
Pomatoschistus minutus will not be affected by smothering as they are mobile and able to swim away. However, destruction of habitat is important. Cordone & Kelley (1961) reported that (in a freshwater habitat) deposition of sediment on the bottom of the substratum would destroy needed shelter, reduce the availability of food, impair growth and lower the survival rate of eggs and larvae of fish. It is likely that, due to the ability of adult Pomatoschistus minutus to burrow into the sediment, they will only be slightly intolerant of smothering. However, if smothering occurred during the breeding season destruction of broods of eggs is possible. Materials such as concrete, oil or tar are likely to have a greater negative impact on the population. An intermediate intolerance to smothering has been recorded. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low
Moore (1977) indicated that an increase in siltation can have a negative effect on the growth of adult fish, survival of eggs and larvae and pathological effects on gill epithelia. However, bottom-dwelling species are generally found to be tolerant of suspended solids and juveniles have been reported as being more intolerant of siltation than adults (Moore, 1977). Araújo et al. (2000) found that Pomatoschistus minutus was preferentially found in areas of high suspended sediment in the Thames estuary. On balance, tolerant has been suggested with a low confidence.
No information
Low High Low Moderate
Pomatoschistus minutus is found in inshore coastal waters. The animal is soft-bodied, so stranding of the individual, and subsequent exposure to sunshine and air for an hour would more than likely result in a proportion of the population dying. This event, however, is unlikely to occur as the sand goby is sufficiently mobile to avoid this situation and can burrow into the sediment to survive low water levels. In an experiment designed to investigate the ecological importance of the sand goby, Jaquet & Raffaelli (1989) set up cages on an intertidal mudflat in the Ythan estuary. They reported that the gobies were apparently unaffected by the presence or absence of water and that many of the fish were entirely buried at the sediment surface. Intolerance to desiccation has therefore been assessed as low. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Moderate
It is unlikely that Pomatoschistus minutus would be affected by a change in the emergence regime as it is sufficiently mobile to avoid its effects.
No information
Low Very high Very Low Low
It is unlikely that the sand goby could withstand a large increase in water flow rate, as this would decrease its ability to feed, migrate and reproduce. However, it is sufficiently mobile to avoid effects and so intolerance is assessed as low.
No information
Intermediate High Low Moderate
The geographical distribution of Pomatoschistus minutus extends from the north-eastern Atlantic (Tromso, Norway) to the Mediterranean and areas of the Baltic Sea. Pomatoschistus minutus populations in southern waters are therefore exposed to warmer waters, and those in northern waters are exposed to colder waters. Long term increases in temperature due to climate warming would be unlikely to have an effect on the population.
As temperature is important in determining the distribution of the sand goby (e.g. winter migration), Wiederholm, (1987) suggested that a cold summer may reduce the population density and a series of cold years may wipe out the northernmost population. During the severe winter of 1962-63 there was heavy mortality of observed populations of Gobius paganellus, Gobius minutus and Gobius flavens (Crisp (ed.), 1964). Therefore a decrease in temperature may affect populations in the British Isles, by either shifting the geographical distribution further southwards towards warmer waters, or killing a proportion of the northern-most population.
Furthermore, temperature could also have an effect on the time and duration of the breeding season. For example, Pomatoschistus minutus spawns at 8 to 15 °C. Therefore, temperatures outside this range would decrease the ability of the species to spawn, and also decrease the hatching success rate of their eggs. Sensitivity to a temperature increase is recorded as low, whereas a decrease in temperature is likely to cause a proportion of the population to die and is therefore recorded as intermediate. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
No information
Low High Low Moderate
Pomatoschistus minutus does not depend on algae as a food source, but depends on other food sources (such as Crustacea and polychaetes). These would still be readily available. The minimum light intensity needed for the detection and recognition of food are of great importance in many species of fish (Kinne, 1970). For instance if the organism needs to spend more time foraging for food, its energy expenditure will increase and could possibly lead to growth and reproductive problems. In highly turbid waters fish larvae have been noted to show a greater than normal mortality. It is probable that Pomatoschistus minutus would be intolerant of changes in turbidity on a large scale, but probably not with changes of approximately 50 mg/l over a month. Therefore, a low intolerance to changes in turbidity has been recorded. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
No information
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Not relevant
The sand goby is sufficiently mobile to move away from the area undergoing changes in wave exposure, therefore it is assigned a low intolerance. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
No information
No information No information No information No information
Insufficient
information.
Low High Low Low
Fish generally forage for food using visual methods and can detect differing levels of light and shade. It is therefore probable that Pomatoschistus minutus can also detect these changes and would be slightly affected by activity on the shore, more so in the breeding season. However, periods of time when activity might be reduced due to hiding would most likely be slight. Intolerance to visual presence is assessed as low. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant
Pomatoschistus minutus is sufficiently mobile to avoid abrasive contact. Therefore it is unlikely to suffer from abrasion.
Low High Low Low
It is unlikely that Pomatoschistus minutus would be affected by displacement, as it is sufficiently mobile to recolonize other areas. However, if displacement occurs during the breeding season negative effects on the species could be noted. Furthermore, if a male that is protecting fertilized eggs is displaced, the eggs are not likely to survive. Therefore, a low intolerance has been recorded. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).

Chemical pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
Intermediate High Low Low
Lindane is likely to bioaccumulate significantly and is considered to be highly toxic to fish (Cole et al., 1999). Ebere & Akintonwa (1992) conducted experiments on the toxicity of various pesticides to Gobius sp. They found Lindane and Diazinon to be very toxic, with 96 hr LC50s of 0.25 µg/l and 0.04 µg/l respectively. TBT is very toxic to algae and fish. However, toxicity of TBT is highly variable with 96-hr LC50 ranging from 1.5 to 36 µg/l, with larval stages being more sensitive than adults (Cole et al., 1999). PCBs are highly persistent in the water column and sediments, have the potential to bioaccumulate significantly and can be very toxic to marine invertebrates. However their toxicity to fish is not clear (Cole et al., 1999). Therefore, an Intermediate intolerance has been recorded. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
Heavy metal contamination
High High Moderate Low
Cadmium, mercury, lead, zinc and copper are highly persistent, have the potential to bioaccumulate significantly and are all considered to be very toxic to fish (Cole et al., 1999). Mueller (1979) found that in Pomatoschistus sp., very low concentrations of cadmium, copper and lead (0.5 g/l Cd2+; 5 g/l Cu2+; 20 g/l Pb2+) brought about changes in activity and an obstruction to the gill epithelia by mucus.
Inorganic mercury concentrations as low as 30 µg/l (96-h LC50) are considered to be toxic to fish, whereas organic mercury concentrations are more toxic to marine organisms (World Health Organisation, 1989, 1991). Oertzen et al. (1988) found that the toxicity of the organic mercury complex exceeded that of HgCl2 by a factor of 30 for Pomatoschistus microps. As Pomatoschistus microps and Pomatoschistus minutus are similar in their distribution and morphology (Wiederholm, 1987) it is probable that Pomatoschistus minutus would react in the same way. Therefore, a high intolerance to heavy metals has been recorded. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
Hydrocarbon contamination
Intermediate High Low Moderate
Toxicity of low molecular weight poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) to organisms in the water column is moderate (Cole et al., 1999). They have the potential to accumulate in sediments and, depending on individual PAH, to be toxic to sediment dwellers at levels between 6 and 150 µg/l (Cole et al., 1999). The toxicity of oil and petrochemicals to fish ranges from moderate to high (Cole et al., 1999). Berge et al. (1983) performed an experiment on the effects of the water soluble fraction (WSF) of North Sea crude oil on sand gobies. They found that after 1 to 2 days exposure to WSF crude oil at a concentration of 0.1 to 1.0 ppm, there was increased mortality and decrease in normal nocturnal behaviour. After 6 days exposure, a 50 % survival was noted. Berge et al. (1983) also noted that, after restoration of clean sea water normal activity resumed and mortality gradually became less, although some fish still died.
Bowling et al. (1983) found that anthracene, a PAH, had a photo-induced toxicity to the bluegill sunfish. In fact, Bowling et al. (1983) reported that when exposed to sunlight, anthracene was at least 400 times more toxic than when no sunlight was present. According to Ankley et al. (1997) only a subset of PAH's are phototoxic (fluranthene, anthracene, pyrene etc.). Effects of these compounds are destruction of gill epithelia, erosion of skin layers, hypoxia and asphyxiation (Bowling et al., 1983). It is possible that Pomatoschistus minutus could be similarly intolerant of hydrocarbons, however this is not known. An intermediate intolerance to hydrocarbons has been recorded. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
Radionuclide contamination
Intermediate High Low Very low
Kinne (1984) reported that for the marine goby, Chasmichthys glosus, doses of as little as 100 rad (type not known) produced a readily observable response, causing severe damage to gonads of both males and females. The testes showed slightly greater intolerance. It is probable that Pomatoschistus minutus would respond similarly to sublethal irradiation at levels indicated above. An intermediate intolerance to radionuclides has been recorded. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
Changes in nutrient levels
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low
An increase or decrease in nutrient levels is not likely to exert an effect on the sand goby.
Low High Low Low
Fonds (1973) found that the sand goby could tolerate salinities between 0.9 and 45 psu. Healey (1971) investigated survival of eggs at various salinities at a temperature of 11-13 °C. He found that they survived best at salinities between 10 and 25 psu, and poorly at 0 and 35 psu. Healey (1971) also found poor survival of sand goby eggs at 0.5 psu. The sand goby is therefore able to survive in a wide range of salinities, and its intolerance is recorded as low. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
No information
Low High Low Very low
A drastic short term decrease in oxygen levels would be expected to have a slight negative impact on the population. Peterson & Peterson (1990) found that the sand goby became restless at oxygen levels below 40 %. It was not known if the increased activity was due to respiratory stress or through adaptation to lower oxygen saturation. Where deoxygenation occurs as a result of thermal isolation of enclosed waters or decay following a plankton bloom, sand gobies would be expected to swim away from the affected area. Intolerance to oxygenation is assessed as low. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).

Biological pressures

 IntoleranceRecoverabilitySensitivityEvidence/Confidence
Low High Low Low
Podocotyle atomon (Digenea) was noted to have a very high infestation rate in Pomatoschistus minutus (Zander et al., 1993). Neoechinorhynchus Rutili (Acanthocephala), Hysterothylacium sp. (Nematoda), and Bothriocephalus scorpii (Cestoda) were also noted by Zander et al. (1993) to infest the sand goby, in the SW Baltic Sea. Although no information was found about specific effects of these parasites on the sand goby, it is likely that it will cause a reduction in its fitness. High parasite levels have very little effect on Pomatoschistus microps (T. Matthews, pers. comm. to A. Jackson). Therefore, a low intolerance has been recorded. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low
No alien or non-native species are known to affect Pomatoschistus minutus in Britain and Ireland.
Low High Low Low
Although of no commercial importance itself, the sand goby is incidentally caught in abundance in French Mediterranean lagoons (Quignard et al., 1983). The species is extremely common, and therefore extraction of the species is only likely to have slight effects on the population. Recoverability is likely to be high (see Additional Information section (1) below).
Low Very high Very Low Low
Pomatoschistus minutus is not known to depend on any other species. Although of no commercial importance itself, it is incidentally caught in abundance in French Mediterranean lagoons (Quignard et al., 1983). Therefore, it is likely to be intolerant of fish trawls for the extraction of other species.

Additional information

  1. The sand goby becomes sexually mature at about 7 months to a year old (Miller, 1986). Although it has a short life span of about 1.3 to 2 years (Miller, 1986; Quignard et al., 1983), reproduction involves repeat spawning and fecundity is high (2,878 - 3,000 Miller, 1986).
  2. The impact of sewage sludge, which contains metals, organic contaminants, nutrients and parasites, on Pomatoschistus minutus was tested by Waring et al. (1996). This was achieved by exposing individuals to 0.1 % sewage sludge for 19 weeks prior to the end of spawning. Waring et al. (1996) found that although fecundity of female sand gobies was not affected, the survival rate of eggs and larvae was reduced, the number of spawning females was reduced, and male mortality was higher than usual. Contamination by sewage sludge would therefore decrease the recruitment potential and increase the mortality rate, leading to a decline in the overall population density.

Importance review

Policy/legislation

Berne ConventionAppendix III
Priority Marine Features (Scotland)

Status

Non-native

Importance information

Pomatoschistus minutus is protected under the Bern Convention, Appendix III (Protected Fauna Species). Under this the species is protected, but a certain exploitation is possible if the population level permits.

Bibliography

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Citation

This review can be cited as:

Riley, K. 2007. Pomatoschistus minutus Sand goby. 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/species/detail/1204

Last Updated: 21/08/2007