Nephtys hombergii, Macoma balthica and Streblospio shrubsolii in littoral sandy mud

Summary

UK and Ireland classification

Description

Soft mud with a fine sand fraction, in variable salinity conditions, typically close to the head of estuaries. The infauna is dominated by the polychaete worm Streblospio shrubsolii, the polychaete Nephtys hombergii, oligochaetes of the genus Tubificoides, and the Baltic tellin Macoma balthica. The ragworm Hediste diversicolor and the spire shell Hydrobia ulvae are often common or abundant. NhomMacStr occurs in mid estuary conditions, usually on the low shore. Tben and Hed.Ol may occur higher up the shore, as well as further towards the upper estuary. Ulva spp. (e.g. Ulva lactuca) may form mats on the surface of the mud during the summer months, particularly in areas of nutrient enrichment. (Information from JNCC, 2022).

Depth range

Mid shore, Lower shore

Additional information

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Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

Sensitivity characteristics of the habitat and relevant characteristic species

This biotope occurs in mud sediments with a fine sand fraction, in variable salinity conditions, typically close to the head of estuaries. The infauna is dominated by the polychaetes Nephtys hombergii and Streblospio shrubsolii, oligochaetes of the genusTubificoides, and the Baltic tellin Macoma balthica. The ragworm Hediste diversicolor and the spire shell Hydrobia ulvae are often common or abundant (JNCC, 2022). The characterizing species Nephtys hombergii, Streblospio shrubsolii, oligochaetes of the genus Tubificoides and the bivalve Macoma balthica are considered in this sensitivity assessment.

Resilience and recovery rates of habitat

When impacted this biotope may recover through repair of damaged individuals, adult migration by mobile species and recolonization by pelagic larvae.  Streblospio shrubsolii and Tubificoides benedii are considered opportunistic species and exhibit shorter lifespans and faster growth rates. Streblospio shrubsolii displays a flexible life history and is viewed as an indicator species, where presence in abundance indicates stressed environments (Borja et al., 2000). Tubificoides benedii is likely to rapidly increase in abundance in disturbed sediments and polluted conditions (Gray et al., 1990; Borja et al., 2000; Gogina et al., 2010).

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 among 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). Nephtys hombergii has a 3-10 year lifespan and reaches maturity at 1-2 years and these traits suggest the species is likely to require longer to recover than more opportunistic (shorter lifespan, earlier age at maturity).

The life history characteristics of Macoma balthica give the species strong powers of recoverability. Adults spawn at least once a year and are highly fecund (Caddy, 1967). Females are capable of producing 10,000-30,000 eggs (MES, 2010). There is a planktotrophic larval phase which lasts up to 2 months (Fish & Fish, 1996) and so dispersal over long distances is potentially possible given a suitable hydrographic regime. Development is rapid following settlement and sexual maturity is attained within two years (Gilbert, 1978; Harvey & Vincent, 1989). In addition to larval dispersal, the dispersal of juveniles and adults occurs via burrowing (Bonsdorff, 1984; Guenther, 1991), floating (Sörlin, 1988) and probably via bedload transport (Emerson & Grant, 1991). It is expected therefore that recruitment can occur from both local and distant populations. Bonsdorff (1984) studied the recovery of a Macoma balthica population in a shallow, brackish bay in SW Finland following the removal of the substratum by dredging in the summer of 1976. Recolonization of the dredged area by Macoma balthica began immediately after the disturbance to the sediment and by November 1976, the Macoma balthica population had recovered to 51 individuals/m². One year later there was no detectable difference in the Macoma balthica population between the recently dredged area and a reference area elsewhere in the bay. In 1976, two generations could be detected in the newly established population indicating that active immigration of adults was occurring in parallel to larval settlement. In 1977, up to six generations were identified, giving further evidence of active immigration to the dredged area.

In general, the recovery of sandy mud biotopes is dependent on the return of suitable sediment and the recruitment of individuals. When sandy mud assemblages are disturbed, recruitment comes from a combination of adult migration and larval immigration with larval importance increasing with the size of the spatial footprint. Overall recovery will vary according to site-specific factors including hydrographic regime and sediment supply. Once suitable substratum returns, initial recolonization is likely to be rapid, especially for rapidly reproducing species such as polychaetes, oligochaetes and some amphipods and bivalves. The important characterizing species, Macoma balthica and  Nephtys hombergii have lifespans of 3-10 years, exhibit generation times of 1-2 years and reach maturity at 1-2 years. Hence recovery is probably approximately two years ('High' resilience) but full population recovery, following large-scale removal of a population may take >2 years (resilience is 'Medium').

Resilience assessment. Recovery of the opportunistic species characterizing the biotope is likely to occur within months in the case of Streblospio shrubsolii and Tubificoides benedii, while Macoma balthica and Nephtys hombergii populations are likely to recover within two years. It is important to consider that recovery times and resilience will depend on the presence of suitable habitat, typically higher mud-content sediment and the opportunity for larvae to enter a region through larvae transport pathways. Resilience is assessed as 'High' for all levels of impact (resistance is 'High', 'Medium', 'Low', or 'None'), although in some instances recovery will not occur until the habitat has recovered and this will depend on site-specific hydrodynamics, sediment supply and other factors.

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

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Temperature increase (local) [Show more]

Temperature increase (local)

Benchmark. A 5°C increase in temperature for one month, or 2°C for one year. Further detail

Evidence

Found from the northern Atlantic, from such areas as the Barents Sea, the Baltic and the North Sea, to the Mediterranean. Nephtys hombergii has been reported from as far south as South Africa, suggesting the species can tolerate temperatures above, even a 5°C increase in UK and Irish coasts. Records are limited but Emery et al. (1957) found that Nephtys hombergii could withstand summer temperatures of 30-35°C.

Environmental factors, such as temperature, day-length, and tidal or lunar cycles, have been implicated in the timing of spawning of Nephtyidae, in particular, the spring tide phase of the lunar cycle (Bentley et al., 1984). In the Tyne Estuary spawning of Nephtys hombergii occurred in May and September, whilst in Southampton Water the species spawned throughout the year with peaks in July and November (Wilson, 1936; Oyenekan, 1986). In Århus Bay, Denmark, Nephtys hombergii spawned in August and September, but a decrease in the number of individuals bearing gametes in May and June suggested that at least part of the population spawned in early summer (Fallesen & Jørgensen, 1991). A 5°C increase in temp for one month period, or 2°C for one year is likely to impact timing of reproduction in these areas, although the combination of environmental factors appearing to influence timing (in particular spring tides) may limit the impact of changes in temperature on timing of spawning events.

Streblospio shrubsolii have been shown to reproduce in a temperature range of 7.5°C – 30°C with highest reproduction levels occurring between 16°C – 21°C (Levin & Creed, 1986, Da Fonseca-Genevois & Cazaux, 1987; Chu & Levin, 1989; Lardicci et al., 1997). The case studies returned by literature reviews were based on Mediterranean case study sites, limiting confidence for UK and Irish seas. The timing of reproduction and growth, although occurring throughout the year increased in late spring and early summer, but were strongly reduced during periods of higher temperatures in summer  and disappeared or strongly reduced at lower temperatures in winter and (Lardicci et al., 1997). Streblospio shrubsolii show timing of growth and reproduction depends on synergistic effects of temperature and photoperiod, suggesting, temperature and photoperiod cues may differ at locations at different latitudes (Chu & Levin, 1989). Both a 5°C increase in temperature for a one month period, or 2°C for one year are within the temperature range reproduction occurs within (7.5°C – 30°C) and within the temperature range where highest reproduction levels occur (16°C – 21°C). Timing and level of reproduction may be affected, however, with some limit on population abundance likely to be caused by a 5°C increase in temp for one month period but this would be unlikely to significantly impact the biotope.

In Europe, Macoma balthica occurs as far south as the Iberian Peninsula and, hence, is expected to tolerate higher temperatures than experienced in Britain and Ireland. Oertzen (1969) recorded that Macoma balthica could tolerate temperatures up to 49°C before thermal numbing of gill cilia occurred presumably resulting in death. Ratcliffe et al. (1981) reported that Macoma balthica from the Humber Estuary, UK, tolerated six hours of exposure to temperatures up to 37.5°C with no mortality. However, Barda et al. (2014) found that increased temperature reduced growth rates in populations in the Baltic Sea. Beukema et al. (2014) also warn that increasing water temperatures as a result of global warming are likely to shorten the growing season (typically late winter to early spring) if warmer spring and summer water temperatures are experienced.  Jansen et al. (2007) suggest that temperature increases on the Spanish coast along the Bay of Biscay over the past 40 years have caused loss of Macoma balthica populations, due to short-term but frequent exposure to >30° C in the Spanish estuaries, which induced elevated maintenance rates in Macoma balthica, and ultimately starvation. Jansen et al. (2007) predict the southern limit of the species will progressively shift north if temperatures continue to rise.

Sensitivity assessment. Typical surface water temperatures around the UK coast vary, seasonally from 4-19°C (Huthnance, 2010). It is likely that the species are able to resist a long-term increase in temperature of 2°C and may resist a short-term increase of 5°C. Resistance and resilience are therefore assessed as ‘High’ and the biotope is judged as ‘Not Sensitive’.

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Temperature decrease (local) [Show more]

Temperature decrease (local)

Benchmark. A 5°C decrease in temperature for one month, or 2°C for one year. Further detail

Evidence

Nephtys hombergii are found as far north as the Barents Sea, and would be expected to be resistant to a 5°C decrease in temp for one month period, or 2°C for one year. Environmental factors, such as temperature, day-length, and tidal or lunar cycles, have been implicated in the timing of spawning of the Nephtyidae, in particular the spring tide phase of the lunar cycle (Bentley et al., 1984). Olive et al. (1997) found that relative spawning success in a North sea (Newcastle on Tyne) population of Nephtys hombergii was positively correlated with winter sea and air temperatures. This suggests a 5°C decrease in temp for a one month period, occurring in winter, or 2°C for one year are likely to impact spawning success.

Streblospio shrubsolii has been shown to reproduce in a temperature range of 7.5°C – 30°C with highest reproduction levels occurring between 16°C – 21°C (Levin & Creed, 1986, Da Fonseca-Genevois & Cazaux, 1987, Chu & Levin, 1989, Lardicci et al., 1997). Reproductive activity disappeared or strongly reduced at lower temperatures in winter in a Mediterranean case study (Lardicci et al., 1997), this case study suggests reproduction would be delayed in UK and Irish populations that experienced both a  5°C decrease in temp for one month period, or 2°C for one year.

The geographical distribution of Macoma balthica suggests that it is very tolerant of low temperature. The species occurs in the Gulfs of Finland and Bothnia where the sea freezes for several months of the year (Green, 1968). It must therefore tolerate much lower temperatures than it experiences in Britain and Ireland. Furthermore, Macoma balthica was apparently unaffected by the severe winter of 1962/3 which decimated populations of many other bivalve species (Crisp, 1964), and De Wilde (1975) noted that Macoma balthica kept at 0°C maintained a high level of feeding activity. It is unlikely, therefore, that in seas around the UK and Ireland Macoma balthica would be intolerant of decreases in temperature at the benchmark level.

Sensitivity assessment Typical surface water temperatures around the UK coast vary, seasonally from 4-19°C (Huthnance, 2010). Streblospio shrubsolii and Nephtys hombergii  are likely to be able to resist a long-term decrease in temperature of 2°C and may resist a short-term decrease of 5°C. Temperature may act as a spawning cue and an acute or chronic decrease may result in some delay in spawning, however this is not considered to impact the adult population and may be compensated by later spawning events. Resistance and resilience are therefore assessed as ‘High’ and the biotope judged as ‘Not Sensitive’.

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Salinity increase (local) [Show more]

Salinity increase (local)

Benchmark. A increase in one MNCR salinity category above the usual range of the biotope or habitat. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope occurs on the mid and lower shore of sheltered estuaries expoased to variable (18-35 ppt) salinty (JNCC, 2015).  An increase of one MNCR salinity category, at the pressure benchmark, would be to fully marine 30-40 ‰. Short-term fluctuations in salinity are only likely to affect the surface of the sediment, and not deeper buried organisms, since the interstitial or burrow water is less affected. However, under longer term or permanent increase in salinity, sediment waters would be expected to also adjust.

Nephtys hombergii is considered to be a brackish water species (Barnes, 1994) but where the species occurs in open coastal locations the species would have to tolerate salinities of 25 psu and above. Within a few months of the closure of a dam across the Krammer-Volkerak estuary in the Netherlands, Wolff (1971) observed that species with pelagic larvae or a free-swimming phase, expanded rapidly with a concomitant increase of salinity to 9-15 psu everywhere. Prior to the closure of the dam the estuary demonstrated characteristics of a typical 'salt-wedge' estuary with a salinity gradient from 0.3 to 15 psu. Hence, Nephtys hombergii is likely to survive increases in salinity within estuarine environments. In fully marine locations Nephtys hombergii may still be found but, may be competitively inferior to other species of Nephtyidae (e.g. Nephtys ciliata and Nephtys hystricis) and occur in lower densities. An increase to fully marine (30-40 ‰) would therefore be likely to lead to a reduction in density of Nephtys hombergii.

Streblospio shrubsolii occurred in subtidal areas of the Thames estuary as well as intertidal flats, suggesting the species is resistant to higher salinities than the ‘variable’ levels occurring higher in estuaries (Attrill, 1998). Likewise Tubificoides benedii has been recorded  in high abundance in offshore areas of the North Sea (Gray et al., 1990). Although evidence was limited on response of these species to rapid increases in salinity it is likely they would be resistant to an increase to the fully marine category (30-40 ‰).

Conde et al. (2013) found that Streblospio shrubsolii were a dominant species in low salinity, estuarine conditions (5-9‰) in the Tagus estuary, Portugal. In Ria de Averio, western Portugal Streblospio shrubsolii and Tubificoides benedii were characterizing species of communities in estuarine sample sites further upstream with lower salinity, suggesting a high resistance to a decrease in salinity (Rodrigues et al., 2011).

Streblospio shrubsolii occurred in subtidal areas of the Thames estuary as well as intertidal flats, suggesting the species is resistant to higher salinities than the ‘variable’ levels occurring higher in estuaries (Attrill, 1998). Likewise Tubificoides benedii has been recorded  in high abundance in offshore areas of the North Sea (Gray et al., 1990). Although evidence was limited on response of these species to rapid increases in salinity it is likely they would be resistant to an increase to the fully marine category (30-40 ‰).

Macoma balthica is found in brackish and fully saline waters but is more common in brackish waters (Clay, 1967b) so may tolerate a state of flux. Seitz (2011) found Macoma balthica distribution across a salinity gradient between a minimum and maximum of 8.8 psu to 19 psu in Cheaspeake Bay was not influenced by salinity. Instead, resource availability was the principal influence on Macoma balthica at a broad scale, suggesting changes in one MNCR salinity category would have limited impact. McLusky & Allan (1976) reported that Macoma balthica failed to grow at 41 psu. It is likely that Macoma balthica would be tolerant of an increase in salinity category to fully marine but further increases to >40‰ are likely to affect growth and condition.

Sensitivity assessment. Nephtys hombergii are likely to decrease in abundance following an increase in salinity. Resistance is assessed as 'Low', Resilience is assessed as  'High' (following restoration of salinity regime) and biotope sensitivity is assessed as  'Low'. Increase in salinity may lead to replacement to the biotope LS.LMu.MEst.HedLim,  as the associated HedLim communities occur further down estuaries towards the open coast, in more saline conditions. The infauna in LS.LMu.MEst.HedLim is similar, though the ragworm Hediste diversicolor is always abundant, and both Nephtys hombergii and Streblospio shrubsolii are often absent. The bivalve assemblage tends to be more diverse in LS.LMu.MEst.HedLim (JNCC, 2015).

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Salinity decrease (local) [Show more]

Salinity decrease (local)

Benchmark. A decrease in one MNCR salinity category above the usual range of the biotope or habitat. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope occurs on the mid and lower shore of sheltered estuaries exposed to variable (18-35 ppt) salinity (JNCC, 2015). Maximum salinity would be expected to be approximately 18-35?⁄??.  A decrease of one MNCR salinity category at the pressure benchmark would be to the ‘Low’ salinity category (<18‰).

Environmental fluctuations in salinity are only likely to affect the surface of the sediment, and not deeper buried organisms, since the interstitial or burrow water is less affected. However, under longer term or permanent increase in salinity, sediment waters would be expected to also adjust.

Nephtys hombergii is considered to be a brackish water species, and has been reported to occur in estuarine locations where salinity is less than 18 psu (Barnes, 1994). Clark & Haderlie (1960) found Nephtys hombergii in the Bristol Channel at salinities between 15.9 psu and 25.1 psu. If the salinity were to become intolerable to the polychaete it is likely that as a mobile species, able to both swim and burrow, Nephtys hombergii would avoid the change in salinity by moving away so that populations would decline.

Conde et al. (2013) found that Streblospio shrubsolii were a dominant species in low salinity, estuarine conditions (5-9‰) in the Tagus estuary, Portugal. In Ria de Averio, western Portugal Streblospio shrubsolii and Tubificoides benedii were characterizing species of communities in estuarine sample sites further upstream with lower salinity, suggesting a high resistance to a decrease in salinity (Rodrigues et al., 2011).

McLusky & Allan (1976) conducted salinity survival experiments with Macoma balthica over a period of 150 days. Survival times declined with decreased salinity. At 12 psu specimens survived 78 days, whilst specimens at 8.5 psu survived 40 days. Some specimens of Macoma balthica survived 2.5 days at 0.8 psu, which was apparently due to the animals ability to clamp its valves shut in adverse conditions. McLusky & Allan (1976) also reported that Macoma balthica failed to grow (increase shell length) at 15 psu. Macoma balthica is found in brackish and fully saline waters (Clay, 1967b) so may tolerate a state of flux. Its distribution in combination with the experimental evidence of McLusky & Allan (1976) suggests that Macoma balthica is likely to be very tolerant to a decreased salinity over a short period. A decline in salinity in the long-term may have implications for the species viability in terms of growth, and the distribution of the species may alter as specimens at the extremes retreat to more favourable conditions. Metabolic function should, however, return quickly to normal when salinity returns to original levels. Decreased salinity may also affect the ability of Macoma balthica to tolerate contaminants such as heavy metals (see Bryant et al., 1985 & 1985a). Usually, contaminants become more toxic at low salinity (Langston, W.J. pers comm.).

Sensitivity assessment. The characterizing species within the biotope occupy between ‘variable’ and ‘fully marine’ category salinities and can tolerate greater osmotic stress for short periods, caused by decreases in salinity below 18?⁄??. Resistance to this decrease in salinity from variable (18-35?⁄??) to low (<18 ppt) is considered likely to lead to some species replacement by polychaetes or oligochaetes more tolerant of low salinity. Nephtys hombergii and oligochaetes are likely to remain but Macoma balthica is likely to reduce in low salinity conditions. A similar biotope could remain where salinities were close to 18 ppt but a severe reduction in salinity would probably lead to loss of the biotope. Resistance is therefore assessed as ‘Low’.  Resilience (following restoration of typical conditions)  is ‘High’ and sensitivity is assessed as ‘Low’. It should be noted that resistance would be lower, and sensitivity greater, where salinity was reduced to a level close to freshwater. A reduction in salinity could lead to a change in biotope to LS.LMu.UEst.Hed.Ol, which tends to occur in more reduced salinities, further towards the head of estuaries. The polychaete assemblage is poorer, and molluscs are virtually absent. It is the presence of Macoma balthica and Hydrobia ulvae that primarily distinguishes NhomLimStr from Hed.Ol (Connor et al. 2014).

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Water flow (tidal current) changes (local) [Show more]

Water flow (tidal current) changes (local)

Benchmark. A change in peak mean spring bed flow velocity of between 0.1 m/s to 0.2 m/s for more than one year. Further detail

Evidence

The biotope occurs most often in weak or moderately strong tidal streams (JNCC, 2015) suggesting the species characterizing the biotope can adapt to a range of tidal currents, aided by each species burrowing traits. Sheltered, moderately exposed, exposed.

The hydrographic regime is an important structuring factor in sedimentary habitats. An increase in water flow rate is not likely to affect Nephtys hombergii, Streblospio shrubsolii and other characterizing species as they live infaunally. The most damaging effect of increased flow rate (above the pressure benchmark) could be the erosion of the substratum as this could eventually lead to loss of the habitat. Orvain et al. (2007) investigated the spatio-temporal variations in intertidal mudflat erodibility in Western France and suggested a potential link between Polychaeta and bed erodibility given the high polychaete abundances observed in the study.

Increased water flow rates is likely to change the sediment characteristics in which the species live, primarily by re-suspending and preventing deposition of finer particles (Hiscock, 1983). The characterizing species prefer habitats with silty/muddy substrata which would not occur in very strong tidal streams. Coarser sediments are likely to remain in areas of strongest flow velocity (where finer particles have been re-suspended) (Coates et al., 2014). Species such as Tubificoides benedii and other opportunist polychaetes that tolerate coarser particle size will possibly increase in abundance.

Additionally, the consequent lack of deposition of particulate matter at the sediment surface would reduce food availability. Decreased water movement would result in increased deposition of suspended sediment (Hiscock, 1983). An increased rate of siltation resulting from a decrease in water flow may result in an increase in food availability for the characterizing species and therefore growth and reproduction may be enhanced, but only if food was previously limiting.

Macoma balthica is likely to experience greater impact from increased water flow as the species thrives in low energy environments, such as estuaries that characterize the biotope (Tebble, 1976). Macoma balthica also shows preference for substratum that has a high proportion of fine sediment (Budd & Rayment, 2001). Increased water flow rate is likely to change the sediment characteristics in this biotope, primarily by re-suspending and preventing deposition of finer particles (Hiscock, 1983). This would result in erosion of the preferred habitat, which may cause mortality of some portion of the population of Macoma balthica. Higher current velocity (0.18 m/s ) recorded in flume experiments conducted in the Isle of Sylt (North Sea) led to juvenile Macoma balthica being washed out of the sediment (Zuhlke & Reise, 1994). Green (1968) recorded that towards the mouth of an estuary where sediments became coarser and cleaner, Macoma balthica was replaced by another tellin species, Tellina tenuis.

Sensitivity assessment. A decrease in water flow may result in accretion of fine sand, and, thereby, a change to muddy sand and mud. As the biotope occurs in association with muddy sand or fine sand a decrease in water flow is unlikely to impact the biotope ( although under an excessive deposition of mud or silt, mud communities, e.g. HedLim, or UEst.Tben may replace the biotope, but this is unlikely at the benchmark levels). Finer sediment has a predicted threshold velocity (flow velocity at which fine grain size sediment would be picked up from the sea bed) of ~0.05 m/s (Gray & Elliott, 2009), therefore an increase of 0.1-0.2 m/s may cause a significant change in grain size of sediments. Resistance is assessed as 'Low' and resilience is assessed as ‘High’. The resulting sensitivity score is ‘Low’ given the potential scenario that an increase in peak mean spring bed flow velocity of between 0.1m/s to 0.2m/s for more than 1 year may result in a characterizing species, Macoma balthica being replaced by another species. As well as HedLim, the biotope LS.LMu.UEst.Tben is likely to occur in a combination of lower saliity and mud with a smaller sand fraction, at the head of estuaries. The infauna of LS.LMu.UEst.Tben is a lot poorer, consisting almost exclusively of oligochaetes and, in some cases, Capitella capitata.

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Emergence regime changes [Show more]

Emergence regime changes

Benchmark.  1) A change in the time covered or not covered by the sea for a period of ≥1 year or 2) an increase in relative sea level or decrease in high water level for ≥1 year. Further detail

Evidence

The biotope and characterizing species occur in the mid to low intertidal. All characterizing species would probably survive an increase in emergence. However, the species can only feed when immersed and therefore likely to experience reduced feeding opportunities. Over the course of a year the resultant energetic cost is likely to cause some mortality. In addition, increased emergence is likely to increase the vulnerability to predation from shore birds. A decrease in emergence is likely to allow the biotope to extend its upper limit, where suitable substrata exist.

Opportunistic, deposit feeding polychaetes, such as, Streblospio shrubsolii and Tubificoides benedii  are likely to tolerate stressful conditions, and often out-compete more sensitive species in inter-tidal environments due to greater tolerances Gogina et al. (2010). Nephtys hombergii is sufficiently mobile to rapidly burrow and seek damper substrates during periods when emergence increases. For instance, Vader (1964) observed that the worm relocates throughout the tidal cycle.

For instance, Tubificoides benedii is capable of penetrating the substrate to depths of 10cm, show resistance to hypoxia and are often typified as an ‘opportunist’ that is adapted to the rapid environmental fluctuations and harsh conditions in estuaries (Gogina et al., 2010). Highest abundances were predicted by Gogina et al. (2010) to be related to depth with an optimum of 10 m  to 20 m. Further case studies were not returned by literature searches on Tubificoides benedii. The studies returned by searches suggest abundance may be limited by a decrease in high water level or a change in time (increase) where substrate is not covered by the sea. An increase in the time the biotope is covered by the sea is likely to result in increased abundance of Tubificoides benedii.

Macoma balthica occurs in the upper regions of the intertidal (Tebble, 1976) and is therefore likely to be tolerant of prolonged emergence. It is a bivalve and can close tightly by contraction of the adductor muscle, storing moisture inside the shell. The silty sediments in which the species lives have a high water content and are therefore resistant to desiccation. Furthermore, Macoma balthica is mobile and able to relocate in the intertidal by burrowing (Bonsdorff, 1984) or floating (Sörlin, 1988). It would be expected to react to an increase in emergence by migrating down the shore to its preferred position. There may be an energetic cost to this migration but it is not expected that mortality would result. Macoma balthica should quickly recover from the energetic cost of relocation.

A case study, predicting changes in biomass of Macoma balthica in the Humber estuary, UK (western North Sea) under expected sea level rise conditions displayed negative impacts. As the coastal squeeze resulting from sea level rise would produce steeper and more homogenous beach face profiles, biomass of Macoma balthica was predicted to decrease (Fujii & Raffaelli, 2008). The sensitivity assessment given in relation to the benchmark pressure should, therefore, be interpreted in relation to intertidal habitat availability following the relative sea level changes.  

Sensitivity Assessment. Some changes in biotope extent may occur as a result of emergence regime changes. Resistance is therefore assessed as ‘Medium’ resilience, following restoration of the tidal regime, is likely to be ‘High’, so the biotope is considered to have ‘Low’ sensitivity to changes at the pressure benchmark level.

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Wave exposure changes (local) [Show more]

Wave exposure changes (local)

Benchmark. A change in near shore significant wave height of >3% but <5% for more than one year. Further detail

Evidence

As this biotope occurs in sheltered estuaries a change in nearshore significant wave height >3% but <5% is unlikely to lead to wave heights that will cause greater erosion. The following impacts are only likely to occur in the most exposed examples of the biotope, greatest impacts would occur within very exposed area, where increased wave exposure is likely to cause erosion of the substrata and consequently, loss of habitat.

Nephtys hombergii lives infaunally but may sometimes partially emerge to seek and capture food but does not present a significant surface area to wave action to sustain physical damage. Clark & Haderlie (1960) and Clark et al. (1962) suggested that strong wave action limited the distribution of Nephtys hombergii. Increased wave action for long durations (e.g. 1 year) may ultimately change the nature of the substratum that the polychaete inhabits and its distribution may consequently alter.

Limited zoobenthic biomass has been recorded in areas exposed to strong currents and wave action (Beukema, 2002),  limiting food availability to species  such as Nephtys hombergii,  however impacts from this pressure at the benchmark levels may be low for this biotope, as the biotope is limited to sheltered locations. Increases in wave action may therefore remain within the limits of the species tolerance but factors such as sediment redistribution may alter the physical biotope.

Sensitivity assessment. Resistance to a change in nearshore significant wave height >3% but <5% of the main characterizing species Nephtys hombergii, Streblospio shrubsolii and Tubificoides benedii  is ‘High’, given that the biotope occurs in very sheltered locations and an increase in nearshore significant wave height of >3% but <5% would continue to result in sheltered conditions which are within the species tolerance limits. At the highest benchmark pressure (5% increase) the species exhibit ‘High’ resistance through their traits to live in the sediment. Resilience (recoverability) is also ‘High’ giving a Sensitivity of ‘Not Sensitive’. Due to limited evidence, confidence in this assessment is Low and the potential for long-term changes to the substratum following continued increase in wave action should be considered.

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Chemical Pressures

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Transition elements & organo-metal contamination [Show more]

Transition elements & organo-metal contamination

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

The results of the Rapid Evidence Assessment on the effects of 'Transitional metal or organometal' contaminants on selected polychaete and mollusc species are summarized below. The full 'evidence reviews' should be consulted for details of the studies examined and their results. A sensitivity assessment is provided for each type or source of 'Transitional metal or organometal' contaminant examined, together with an overall pressure assessment. 

Transitional metals. Bryan (1984) reported that short-term toxicity in polychaetes was highest to Hg, Cu, and Ag, declined with Al, Cr, Zn, and Pb with Cd, Ni, Co, and Se being the least toxic. It was reported that polychaetes have a range of tolerances to heavy metal levels of Cu, Zn, As, and Sn being in the order of 1500-3500 µg/g. An analysis of organisms from Restronguet Creek revealed that Nephtys hombergii from the middle and lower reaches of the creek contained appreciably higher concentrations of Cu (2227 µg/g dry wt), Fe, and Zn than comparable specimens of Hediste diversicolorNephtys cirrosa is also recorded in Restronguet Creek (Bryan & Gibbs, 1993). However, amongst polychaetes within the creek, there was evidence that some metals were regulated. In Nephtys hombergii the head end of the worm became blackened and X-ray microanalysis by Bryan & Gibbs (1983) indicated that this was caused by the deposition of copper sulphide in the body wall. In the same study, Bryan & Gibbs (1983) presented evidence that Nephtys hombergii from Restronguet Creek possessed increased tolerance to copper contamination. Specimens from the Tamar Estuary had a 96-hour LC50 of 250 µg/l, whilst those from Restronguet Creek had a 96-hour LC50 of 700 µg/l (35 psu; 13°C). Bryan & Gibbs (1983) suggested that since the area had been heavily contaminated with metals for over 200 years, there had been adequate time for metal-resistant populations to develop especially for relatively mobile species.

In addition, there is evidence that some polychaete species can adapt to metal contamination in the long term (Bryan & Hummerstone, 1971, 1973; Grant et al., 1989; Hateley et al., 1989; Mouneyrac et al., 2003; Alla et al., 2006b; Burlinson & Lawrence, 2007; McQuillan et al., 2014). McQuillan et al. (2014) suggested that some species (Nephtys hombergii) had developed metal-resistant populations as a functional genetic trait to copper homeostasis. Therefore, the resistance of Nephtys spp. to ‘transitional metals and organometals’ is assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘High’ and sensitivity as ‘Low’ but with ‘Low’ confidence as it is based on a single study.  However, confidence in the assessment is 'Low' due to the limited evidence and its ability to adapt to transitional metal contamination in the long term. 

The evidence on the remaining polychaete species is limited to single observations from four studies. In all cases, only sublethal results were reported. The sensitivity of Eteone spp. and Tubificoides spp. to ‘Transitional metals and organometals’ is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the lack of evidence.

‘Severe’ or ‘significant’ mortality was reported in 52% of the results from studies in the evidence review of the effects of ‘Transitional metals and organometal’ exposure on Macoma spp. depending on the exposure concentration or duration. Copper and cadmium were reported to result in ‘Severe’ mortality, while arsenic, chromium, mercury, silver, zinc, and nickel were reported to result in ‘significant’ mortality, depending on concentration, duration, and environmental conditions. The remaining metals were reported to result in no mortality or sublethal effects. Barite (in the form of drilling mud barite) was shown to cause 100% mortality of M. balthica within 12 days at a depth of 2- and 3-mm dosage but the cause may have been due to physical damage of their gill filaments rather than chemical toxicity (Barlow & Kingston, 2001). Overall, the evidence suggests that the worst-case resistance of Macoma spp. to ‘transitional metals’ exposure is ‘None’. Therefore, resilience is assessed as ‘Medium’ and sensitivity as ‘Medium’.

Organometals. The evidence on the effects of tributyltin was limited to two papers, one of which was not accessible (Walsh et al., 1984). Beaumont et al. (1989) introduced TBT into three microcosms at high (1-3 µg/l) concentrations and three microcosms at low (0.06-0.17 µg/l) concentrations. Non-introduced Nereis diversicolor, Arenicola marina, and Eteone sp. occurred in the low-level TBT and the control treatments but not in the high-level TBT treatments. High mortalities of Nereis diversicolor were recorded in all microcosms including the control, so the results were inconclusive. Overall, only sublethal effects were reported in the evidence reviewed. Therefore, the sensitivity of Nereis spp. to TBT is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the lack of evidence. No evidence of the effects of TBT on Nephtys spp. or Steblospio spp. was found. 

Beaumont et al. (1989) also examined the effects of tributyltin (TBT) exposure in Macoma balthica. However, no mortality was reported and some juvenile Macoma recruited to the low (0.06-0.17 µg/l) TBT treatment mesocosm. Therefore, the worst-case sensitivity of Macoma spp. to TBT exposure is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’ but confidence in the assessment is ‘Low’ due to the limited number of studies reviewed.

Nanoparticulate metals. Sublethal effects and ‘no’ mortality were reported in all but one of the studies reviewed that examined the effects of nanoparticulate metals on polychaetes. The nanoparticulates did result in reduced burrowing speed or activity, where an effect was reported. While a reduction in burrowing ability may reduce feeding or increase the susceptibility to predation, ‘no’ direct mortality was reported. However, Cozzari et al. (2015) reported that silver nanoparticles caused 8% and 16% mortalities in the 2.5 and 10 µg/g treatments after 4 days, respectively, and the 5 µg/g treatments caused 12% mortality by day seven. Therefore, the worst-case resistance of Nereis spp. to nanoparticulate metals is assessed as ‘Medium’, resilience as ‘High’ and sensitivity as ‘Lowbut with ‘Low’ confidence due to the lack of evidence.

Dai et al. (2013) investigated the effects of silver, silver oxide nanoparticulates, copper, and copper oxide nanoparticulates on Macoma balthica. Clams were exposed to sediment spiked with 200 µg/g of silver or copper for 35 days. No significant effects on mortality, condition index, or burrowing behaviour were observed for any of the metal forms. Therefore, the sensitivity of Macoma spp. to nanoparticulate copper or silver is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’ but confidence in the assessment is ‘Low’ due to the limited number of studies reviewed. 

Overall sensitivity assessment of 'Transitional metals and organometals'. Nephtys hombergii, Macoma balthica and Streblospio shrubsolii are the important characteristic species that define this biotope. The evidence collated suggests that both Nephtys spp. and Macoma spp. have been reported to experience 'severe' or 'significant' mortality due to exposure to a range of transitional metals, depending on the concentration of the metals, duration of exposure, and local conditions such as temperature and salinity. Nephtys hombergii and molluscs are reported to be able to detoxify metal contamination within their tissue, and Nephtys hombergii may also genetically adapt to local metal contamination. Therefore, the evidence suggests that the worst-case resistance of this biotope to ‘transitional metals’ exposure is ‘None’, based on the response of Macoma balthica to transitional metals, so resilience is assessed as ‘Medium’ and sensitivity as ‘Medium’. However, confidence in the assessment is 'Low' due to the variation in response between the metals studied, changes in toxicity due to local conditions, and the potential for localised adaptation.  The effects of nanoparticulate metals on polychaetes and bivalve populations suggest that exposure could result in population decline due to a reduction in feeding and burrowing activity and the potential increase in predation. However, the evidence is limited and 'no' mortality was reported. 

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Hydrocarbon & PAH contamination [Show more]

Hydrocarbon & PAH contamination

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

The results of the Rapid Evidence Assessment on the effects of 'Hydrocarbon and PAH' contaminants on selected polychaete and mollusc species are summarized below. The full 'evidence reviews' should be consulted for details of the studies examined and their results. A sensitivity assessment is provided for each type or source of 'Hydrocarbon and PAH' contaminant examined, together with an overall pressure assessment. 

Oil spills. The 1969 West Falmouth (America) spill of Grade 2 diesel fuel documented the effects of hydrocarbons in a sheltered habitat (Suchanek, 1993). The entire benthic fauna was eradicated immediately following the spill. The remobilization of oil continued for over one year after the spill and contributed to a much greater impact on the habitat than that caused by the initial spill. The effects are likely to be prolonged, as hydrocarbons incorporated within the sediment by bioturbation will remain for a long time owing to slow degradation under anoxic conditions. Oil covering the surface and within the sediment will prevent oxygen transport to the infauna and promote anoxia as the infauna utilize oxygen during respiration. McLusky (1982) found that petrochemical effluents released from a point source to an estuarine intertidal mudflat caused severe pollution in the immediate vicinity. Beyond 500 m distance, the effluent contributed to an enrichment of the fauna in terms of abundance and biomass similar to that reported by Pearson & Rosenberg (1978) for organic pollution, and Hediste diversicolor was found amongst an impoverished fauna at 250 m from the discharge.

The Amoco Cadiz oil spill resulted in reductions in abundance, biomass, and production of the affected invertebrate communities. However, Nephtys hombergii and other polychaetes (cirratulids and capitellids) were largely unaffected by the Amoco Cadiz oil spill (Conan, 1982). The sediment rapidly recovered and in 1981, benthic recruitment occurred under normal conditions (Dauvin, 1998).

Hydrocarbons and PAHs. No direct evidence of the effects of hydrocarbons or PAHs on Streblospio spp. was found. However, the effects on similar species might provide suitable proxies.  McLusky (1982) found that petrochemical effluents, including organic solvents and ammonium salts, released from a point source to an estuarine intertidal mudflat of the Forth Estuary, Scotland, caused severe pollution in the immediate vicinity. Beyond 500 m distance, the effluent contributed to an enrichment of the fauna in terms of abundance and biomass similar to that reported by Pearson & Rosenberg (1978) for organic pollution. Nephtys hombergii was found in low numbers in the area with a maximum abundance of species and the highest total biomass at 500 m from the discharge. Its abundance was greatest at 1.5-2 km from the discharge, while Eteone spp. and spionids were most abundant at 1-1.5 km (McLusky, 1982). However, the petrochemical discharge polluted the sediment within 500 m of the discharge but beyond that the effects were due to organic enrichment rather than the toxicity of petrochemicals alone (McLusky, 1982).

Lewis et al. (2008) reported that both the WAF of crude oil and the PAH fluoranthene adversely affected fertilization success in Neries virens, while the WAF caused 'significant' larval mortality. No mortality due to PAH exposure was reported in the evidence reviewed. McLusky & Martins (1998) investigated the long-term effects of petrochemical discharge on the faunal composition of an estuarine mudflat over a 20-year period. The abundance of Neries diversicolor varied over the 20 years and but no significant trends were recorded.  Therefore, the resistance of Nereis spp. (and Hediste spp.) to petrochemical hydrocarbons and PAHs is assessed as ‘Low’ based on the worst-case results reviewed. Hence, resilience is ‘High’ and sensitivity is assessed as ‘Low’ on the assumption that fertilization failure could result in long-term population decline but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the limited evidence reviewed. 

Stekoll et al. (1980) exposed the Macoma balthica, to Prudhoe Bay crude oil in flowing seawater for six months at three concentrations; low 0.03 mg/l, medium 0.3 mg/l and high 3.0 mg/l and concluded that chronic exposure of Macoma balthica to oil-in-seawater concentrations even as low as 0.03 mg/l would in time lead to population decreases. The individuals in this study were not subjected to any of the stresses that normally occur in their natural environment on mudflats such as changes in salinity, temperature, oxygen availability and wave action, therefore, it is possible that exposure of Macoma balthica to oil under field conditions results in higher mortality. Shaw et al. (1976) also reported mortality of Macoma balthica caused by exposure to crude oil following an experimental application of oil at a concentration of 1.2 µl oil/cm² and 5.0 µl oil/cm² to sediments which equated to oil spills of one ton /20 km² and one ton/100 km². 'Significant' mortalities were observed after only two days following the application of the oil at a concentration of 5.0 µl oil/cm². Some specimens of Macoma balthica survived the application of oil in these experiments but were weakened (Shaw et al., 1976). Therefore, the worst-case resistance of Macoma spp. to petroleum hydrocarbons is assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘High’ and sensitivity as ‘Low’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the limited number of studies reviewed.

Only one article (Farke & Gunther, 1984) examined the effects of dispersants on Macoma balthica. No mortality was reported, and it was unclear what effects the dispersant had on the population based on the data alone. Therefore, the evidence was not adequate to support an assessment of its sensitivity to dispersants.  No results on the impacts of ‘Hydrocarbons and PAHs’ on Scrobicularia plana were found in the evidence reviewed. 

Overall sensitivity assessment of this pressure. The evidence reviewed suggests that the important characteristic species Macoma balthica could experience 'significant' mortality due to exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons. Oil spills have the potential to significantly affect benthic fauna in sheltered soft sediments but the effects vary depending on location and the extent, duration and type of oil spilt. Nephtys hombergii and other polychaetes were reported to be unaffected after the Amoco Cadiz spill while the West Falmouth spill eradicated the benthos and petrochemical effluent excluded Nephtys from closer than 500 m to the discharge point.  Therefore, the resistance of this biotope to petrochemical hydrocarbons and PAHs is assessed as ‘Low’ based on the worst-case results reviewed in Nephtys spp. and Macoma spp. Hence, resilience is ‘High’ and sensitivity is assessed as ‘Low’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the limited evidence available. 

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Synthetic compound contamination [Show more]

Synthetic compound contamination

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

The results of the Rapid Evidence Assessment on the effects of 'Synthetic compounds' contaminants on selected polychaete and mollusc species are summarized below. The full 'evidence reviews' should be consulted for details of the studies examined and their results. A sensitivity assessment is provided for each type or source of 'Synthetic compounds' contaminant examined, together with an overall pressure assessment. 

Pesticides/biocides. Nephtys spp., Eteone longa, and Streblospio benedicti were examined in only two of the articles reviewed. In all cases, only sublethal effects were reported. For example, Dumbauld et al. (2001) observed the effects of the application of the pesticide Carbaryl on the estuarine benthic community in oyster culture sites but did not detect trends or significant differences in the abundance of the polychaetes Streblospio benedicti and Eteone longa. Similarly, Scanes et al. (1993) reported no significant changes in polychaete abundance (inc. Nephtys spp.) after an accidental spill of the pesticide Aldrin on an estuarine beach in New South Wales, Australia. Therefore, the sensitivity of Nephtys spp., Eteone longa, and Streblospio benedicti to ‘pesticides/biocides’ is assessed as ‘Not sensitive based on this evidence alone. The confidence is ‘Low’ due to the lack of evidence.

However, the toxicity of different pesticides varies depending on the chemical used and the species affected. For example, seven articles examined the effects of ‘Pesticides/biocides’ on Hediste (Nereis) diversicolor. Collier & Pinn (1998) reported that Nereis diversicolor was the most sensitive of the species in their experiment, as 8.0 mg/m2 Ivermectin caused 100% mortality within 14 days. Mayor et al. (2008) reported that the sea-lice insecticide Emamectin benzoate had significant effects on the survival of Hediste diversicolor with an LC50 value of 1,367.71 µg/kg (wet sediment). Scaps et al. (1997) reported that by day 21, 20% of Nereis diversicolor exposed to 10-6 and 10-8 M Malathion died, and 33.5 and 62.5% mortality occurred in the 10-8 and 10-6 M parathion-ethyl treatments. Only sublethal effects were reported in the other pesticides reviewed for effects on Hedsite spp. or Nereis spp. Underwood & Paterson (1993) reported that Nereis diversicolor was absent from areas of sediment treated with formaldehyde. Although not studied directly, the observation suggests that Nereis diversicolor was excluded from the treatment site due to the toxicity of the formaldehyde or the lack of microalgal food.  Therefore, the worst-case resistance of Nereis spp. and Hediste spp. to ‘Pesticides/biocides’ is assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Medium’ and sensitivity assessed as ‘Medium’. The confidence is assessed as ‘low’ due to the limited evidence and the variation in toxicity between species and chemicals tested.

The effects of pesticides/biocides on Arenicola spp. were studied in six of the articles reviewed. Garnas et al. (1977) reported 100% mortality in Arenicola cristata exposed to 1000 µg/l Kepone for 5 days. Similarly, Rubenstein (1979) reported 100% mortality in A. cristata exposed to 29.5 µg/l of Kepone, for 144 hours. Exposure to 2.8, 4.5, 6.6, 7.4, and 29.5 µg/l Kepone for 144 hours also reduced feeding behaviour significantly. However, Mirex and sodium pentachlorophenate reduced feeding and burrowing behaviour significantly (Schoor & Newman, 1976; Rubinstein, 1978) in Arenicola cristata. Carbaryl, Ivermectin and Parathion-ethyl were reported to cause significant mortality in A. marina (Conti, 1987; Allen et al., 2007). Ivermectin had a significant effect on the survival of the lugworms; the 10-day LC50 was 17.9 µg IVM/kg wet sediment in Test 1 and 14.8 µg IVM/kg wet sediment in Test 2 and Ivermectin reduced the mean casting rate (Allen et al., 2007). Conti (1987) reported 48-hour LC50s of 2,700 µg/l for Parathion-ethyl and 7,200 µg/l for Carbaryl. Therefore, the worst-case resistance of Arenicola spp. to ‘Pesticides/biocides’ is assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Medium’ and sensitivity assessed as ‘Medium’. The confidence is assessed as ‘low’ due to the limited evidence and the variation in toxicity between species and the chemicals tested.

Three articles examined the effects of ‘Pesticides/biocides’ on Macoma spp. Armstrong & Millemann (1974) exposed Macoma nasuta to Sevin at 15, 20, 25, and 30 mg/l for 96 hours. After 96 hours of exposure, around 50% of the clams had withdrawn one or both siphons, with estimated 48-hour and 96-hour EC50s of 27.5 and 17 mg/l Sevin, respectively. But no mortality was reported. Boese et al. (1990) reported sublethal effects on the physiology of Macoma spp. exposed to 5.2 – 7.8 µg/l hexachlorobenzene for 3-7 days. Dumbauld et al. (2001) examined the effects of pesticide treatment of oyster sites on benthic infauna. No significant effects on Macoma spp. abundance were observed 24 hours, 2 weeks, 1 month and 1 year after the application of Carbaryl at 5.6 kg/ha. The average density of Macoma spp. was significantly different from the control plots at 51 days post-exposure to 8.4 kg/ha Carbaryl but there were no significant differences after 2 days or 1 year (Dumbauld et al., 2001). Therefore, the worst-case sensitivity of Macoma spp. to the ‘Pesticides/biocides’ tested is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’ since only sublethal or transient effects were reported. However, confidence in the assessment is ‘Low’ due to the limited number of studies and pesticides tested.

Pharmaceuticals. No direct evidence of the effects of Pharmaceuticals on Nephtys spp., Eteone longa, Streblospio spp. or Macoma spp. was found.  However, eight articles examined the effects of several ‘Pharmaceuticals’ on Hediste (Nereis) diversicolor. For example, Maranho et al. (2014) reported that the survival of the Hediste diversicolor was negatively correlated with concentrations of Carbamazepine and 17α-ethynylestradiol. ‘Significant’ mortality (>25%) was observed in the Carbamazepine (0.05 and 0.5 µg/l), Fluoxetine (0.001 µg/l) and 17α-ethynylestradiol (0.01 and 0.1 µg/l) treatment groups. Pires et al. (2016) reported that Hediste diversicolor experienced 8.3% mortality at concentrations 0.3 and 3.0 µg/l after 28 days of exposure to carbamazepine, 25% mortality at 6.0 µg/l and 16.7% mortality at 18.0 µg/l after 28 days of exposure carbamazepine. ‘Some’ mortality occurred after exposure to the beta-blocker Propranolol (Maranho et al., 2014). However, the other studies reported only sublethal effects, including a reduction in burrowing activity. Therefore, the worst-case resistance of Nereis spp. and Hediste spp. to ‘Pharmaceuticals is assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘High’ and sensitivity assessed as ‘Low’. The confidence is assessed as ‘low’ due to the limited evidence and the variation in toxicity between the chemicals studied. 

Only two papers examined the effects of ‘Pharmaceuticals’ on Arenicola marina. Zanuri et al. (2017) investigated the impacts of Diclofenac, Ibuprofen, and Sildenafil citrate (Viagra®) on the fertilization biology of spawning marine invertebrates, including Arenicola marina. Sperm motility and swimming speed were reduced when exposed to >1 µg/l Diclofenac for over 90 minutes. Ibuprofen exposure significantly increased the swimming speed of the sperm when exposed to >10 µg/l for 30 minutes or longer. Diclofenac negatively affected the fertilization success of the polychaetes but neither Ibuprofen nor Sildenafil citrate exposure affected fertilization success significantly. Pre-incubation of both sperm and oocytes caused significant decreases in fertilization success of the polychaetes at Diclofenac concentrations of 1 µg/l and above. Ibuprofen caused significant reductions in fertilization success when gametes were exposed to Ibuprofen at 1000 µg/l. Pre-incubation with Sildenafil citrate had no effects on fertilization success.  Lewis & Galloway (2009) reported that methyl methanesulfonate exposure did not affect fertilization success at all tested concentrations but abnormal development occurred at all tested concentrations (18, 32, and 52 mg/l for 24 hours and 72 hours prior to the induction of spawning) in polychaete Arenicola marina. Therefore, the sensitivity of Arenicola marina to ‘Pharmaceuticals’ is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’, but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the limited evidence. However, reported effects on larval development may have long-term effects on recruitment and population dynamics. No direct evidence of the effects of other synthetic compounds on Nephtys spp., Eteone longa, Streblospio spp. or Macoma spp. was found. 

Overall sensitivity assessment for this pressure. The effects of pesticide/biocide exposure on the characteristic polychaetes and bivalve varies between studies and the chemical tested. No evidence of mortality due to pesticide/biocide exposure was reported in Nephtys spp., Eteone longa, Streblospio spp. but other polychaetes (Hediste spp. or Nereis spp. and Arencola spp. were reported to experience 'severe' or 'significant' mortality. The pharmaceuticals studied were reported to cause mortality in Nereis spp. but also a reduction in burrowing activity and a reduction in fertilization success in Arenicola spp. Therefore, the worst-case resistance of this biotope to 'Synthetic compound' contamination is assessed as 'Low' based on the assumption that polychaetes share similar biochemistry and physiology.  However, the confidence in the assessment is 'Low' due to the variation in response between species and the chemicals tested. Hence, resilience is assessed as 'High' and sensitivity as 'Low'. 

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Radionuclide contamination [Show more]

Radionuclide contamination

Benchmark. An increase in 10µGy/h above background levels. Further detail

Evidence

Insufficient information was available in relation to characterizing species to assess this pressure. Limited evidence is available on species with similar traits. Beasley & Fowler (1976) and Germain et al. (1984) examined the accumulation and transfers of radionuclides in Hediste diversicolor from sediments contaminated with americium and plutonium derived from nuclear weapons testing and the release of liquid effluent from a nuclear processing plant. Both concluded that the uptake of radionuclides by Hediste diversicolor was small. Beasley & Fowler (1976) found that Hediste diversicolor accumulated only 0.05% of the concentration of radionuclides found in the sediment. Both also considered that the predominant contamination pathway for Hediste diversicolor was from the interstitial water.

Sensitivity assessment: There is insufficient information available on the biological effects of radionuclides to comment further upon the intolerance of characterizing species to radionuclide contamination. Assessment is given as ‘No evidence.’

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Introduction of other substances [Show more]

Introduction of other substances

Benchmark. Exposure of marine species or habitat to one or more relevant contaminants via uncontrolled releases or incidental spills. Further detail

Evidence

The results of the Rapid Evidence Assessment on the effects of 'Other substances' contaminants on selected polychaete and mollusc species are summarized below. The full 'evidence reviews' should be consulted for details of the studies examined and their results. A sensitivity assessment is provided for each type or source of 'Other substances' contaminant examined, together with an overall pressure assessment. 

No direct evidence of the effects of 'Other substances' on Nephtys spp., Eteone longa, or Streblospio spp. was found.  Galloway et al. (2010) investigated the sublethal toxicity of nano-titanium dioxide and carbon nanotubes on the marine polychaete Arenicola marina. The lugworms were exposed through natural sediments to a 10-day OECD/ASTM 1990 acute toxicity test. Sediment was prepared with either single-walled carbon nanotubes (0.003–0.03 g/kg), nano-titanium dioxide (1–3 g/kg), or seawater alone. The lugworms were fed every other day and feeding behaviour was monitored every 48 hours. Casts were collected, dried overnight and weighed, with seawater renewals every 48 hours following cast collection. After 10 days of exposure, the lugworms were removed from the exposure sediment and the lugworm's ability to re-bury into clean sediment was assessed following the OECD/ICES A. marine burrowing bioassay. Sediment exposure to single-walled carbon nanotubes or nano-titanium dioxide had no effects on the burrowing behaviour of the lugworm. During the exposure period, single-walled carbon nanotubes had no effects on the feeding behaviour of the lugworms. However, nano-titanium dioxide exposure caused a significant impact on feeding behaviour with reductions in casting rate at 2 g/kg nano-titanium dioxide. Therefore, Arenicola marina is probably ‘Not sensitive’ to single-walled carbon nanotubes (at 0.003–0.03 g/kg). However, confidence in the assessment is ‘low’ due to the lack of evidence.

De Marchi et al. (2017) investigated the effects of different multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) (at 0.01; 0.10 and 1.00 mg/l) on Diopatra neapolitana and Hediste diversicolor. The effects on physiological and biochemical performance were assessed after 28 days of exposure. The respiration rate of Hediste diversicolor was measured after 28 days of exposure. Exposure to 0.01 mg/l MWCNTs increased the respiration rate compared to the controls. However, respiration rates significantly decreased at 0.1 mg/L MWCNTs compared to the control, but respiration rate increased at the highest tested concentration (1.00 mg/L) of MWCNTs. Mortality of H. diversicolor individuals exposed to 0.01, 0.10 and 1.00 mg/l was 11% at each of the tested concentrations. In the control treatment, there was 100% survival recorded after bioassay. Pires et al. (2022) investigated the effects of graphene oxide (GO) nanosheets on the behavioural, physiological, and biochemical responses of Hediste diversicolor. Polychaetes were exposed to a range of concentrations of graphene oxide nanosheets (10, 100, 1000, and 10,000 µg/l) for 28 days. The study assessed the effects on the behaviour, feeding activity, mucus production, regenerative capacity, antioxidant status, biochemical damage, and metabolism. Body regeneration was significantly influenced by GO exposure, with all individuals exposed to GO exhibiting reductions in the number of regenerated segments when compared to the controls. Feeding activity was influenced by GO exposure with increased feeding times for exposed individuals. The segregation of mucus was significantly higher in individuals exposed to GO when compared to the controls. Burrowing rates of polychaetes exposed to GO were significantly slower than those in the control, with 20-35% of individuals in the highest tested concentrations unable to burrow by the end of the 30-minute assay. Mortality was around 40% in the GO-exposed treatments, with 30% mortality in the 10 and 100 µg/l treatments, but only 5% in the highest tested concentration of 10,000 µg/l. No mortality occurred in the control. Therefore, Hediste diversicolor probably has a resistance of ‘Low’ to graphene oxide nanosheets and ‘Medium’ resistance to multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Hence, resilience is probably ‘High’ and sensitivity is assessed as ‘Low’ but with ‘Low’ confidence.

Pires et al. (2016) investigated the biochemical effects of single and combined exposure to Carbamazepine and caffeine on Hediste diversicolor. Polychaetes were exposed to a range of concentrations of carbamazepine (0.3, 3.0, 6.0 and 9.0 µg/l) and caffeine (0.5, 3.0, and 18.0 µg/l) for 28 days. 8.3% of mortality at concentrations 0.3 and 3.0 µg/l after 28 days of exposure to carbamazepine, 25% at 6.0 µg/l and 16.7% at 18.0 µg/l. Specimens experienced 8.3% of mortality after 28 days of exposure to caffeine at 0.5 and 18.0 µg/l, and polychaetes exposed to 0.3 µg/l carbamazepine + 0.5 µg/l caffeine had 8.3% mortality. No mortality was recorded in the 3 µg/l caffeine or 3 µg/l caffeine + 6 µg/l carbamazepine treatment. The evidence suggests that Hediste diversicolor has a ‘Low’ sensitivity to caffeine exposure but confidence in the assessment is ‘Low’ due to the lack of evidence.

Muller-Karanassos et al. (2021) investigated the effects of environmental concentrations of antifouling paint particles on sediment-dwelling invertebrates. Adult ragworms and cockles were exposed to three types of antifouling paint particles (APP), two biocidal (‘historic’ and ‘modern’) and one biocide-free (‘silicone’). Two laboratory-based 18-day and 5-day exposure experiments were carried out. The APPs ranged in particle size and included varying concentrations of Cu, Sn, Pb, Hg, and Zn. Trial experiments carried out using the maximum environmental APP concentration (18.8 g/l) caused 100% mortality of all ragworms and cockles in the modern treatment within 6 days. In the 18-day exposure, antifouling paint particle concentrations were 4.2 g/l for the historic biocidal treatment; 3.0 g/l for the modern biocidal treatment; and 2.1 g/l  or the non-biocidal silicone treatment. The burrowing rate of the ragworms was reduced by 29% in the modern biocidal treatment. However, there were no significant differences between treatments. Ragworms decreased in weight and feeding rates significantly, but significant differences were only seen between the modern biocidal treatment and the control. Modern biocidal antifouling paint particles were used at concentrations ranging from 0 to 30 g/l (ragworms) and 0 to 6 g/l (cockles) to estimate the 5-day LC50 exposure. The 5-day LC50 values were 19.9 g/l for the ragworms and 2.3 g/l for cockles. The 5-day EC50 values were 14.6 g/l for the ragworms and 1.4 g/l for cockles. The evidence Muller-Karanassos et al. (2021) suggests that antifouling paint particles remain toxic in the environment. Therefore, the resistance of Hediste diversicolor to APPs is assessed as ‘None’. Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Medium’ and sensitivity as ‘Medium’ but confidence in the assessment is ‘Low’ due to the lack of evidence.

Caldwell et al. (1975) exposed Macoma balthica to 100, 330, 1000, 3,300, and 10,000 µg/l hydrogen sulphide for 96 hours. The longer the clams were exposed to hydrogen sulphide the lower the concentration was required to cause 50% mortality. The LC50 at 24, 48, and 96 hours were 10,000, 8,000 and 6,000 µg/l, respectively. Crecelius (1979) examined the effect of bromate on Macoma inquinata and reported 100% mortality after 72 hours at 880 mg/l bromate. Therefore, the worst-case resistance of Macoma spp. to the inorganic chemicals tested is assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Medium’ and sensitivity as ‘Medium’ but with ‘Low confidence due to the limited evidence. Wastewater discharge was shown to reduce the abundance of Macoma cumana in the affected area (Bergayou et al., 2019). Exposure to pulverised fuel ash was reported to result in 20% mortality of Macoma balthica in the 100% PFA treatment (Jenner & Bowmer, 1990). Therefore, the worst-case resistance of Macoma balthica to pulverised fuel ash exposure is assessed as ‘Medium’, resilience as ‘High’, and sensitivity as ‘Low’ but with ‘Low’ confidence. However, its resistance to wastewater discharge may be ‘Medium’ and its sensitivity ‘Low’ depending on the nature of the contaminants involved but confidence is ‘Low’ due to the lack of evidence.

Overall sensitivity assessment for this pressure. No direct evidence of the effects of 'Other substances' on Nephtys spp., Eteone longa, or Streblospio spp. was found. The above evidence suggests that Hediste spp. may be sensitive to caffeine, graphene oxide nanosheets, and anti-fouling paint particles, while single-walled carbon nanotubes, and nano-titanium dioxide had limited effects on Arenicola marina. Macoma balthica was reported to experience mortality due to exposure to pulverised fuel ash (PFA) and wastewater discharge. Therefore, the worst-case resistance of this biotope to 'Other substances' contamination is assessed as 'None' based on the effects of APP and the assumption that polychaetes share similar biochemistry and physiology.  However, the confidence in the assessment is 'Low' due to the variation in response between species and the chemicals tested. Hence, resilience is assessed as 'Medium' and sensitivity as 'Medium'. However, the evidence on the effects of each chemical tested should be treated separately and the above species-specific assessments used where appropriate

None
Low
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Medium
High
Medium
Medium
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Medium
Low
Low
Low
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De-oxygenation [Show more]

De-oxygenation

Benchmark. Exposure to dissolved oxygen concentration of less than or equal to 2 mg/l for one week (a change from WFD poor status to bad status). Further detail

Evidence

Nephtys hombergii inhabits intertidal areas where resistance to low oxygen is needed and sulphide levels can reach up to 1mM (Giere, 1992; Thierman, 1996). As with other characterizing polychaete species Nephtys hombergii exhibits the ability to switch from aerobic to anerobic respiration, which provides some protection from the toxic effects of sulphide.

Nephtys hombergii has adapted to such conditions by utilising several strategies. Arndt & Schiedek (1997) found Nephtys hombergii to have a remarkably high content of phosphagen (phosphoglycocyamine), which is the primary energy source during periods of environmental stress. With increasing hypoxia, energy is also provided via anaerobic glycolysis, with strombine as the main end-product. Energy production via the succinate pathway becomes important only under severe hypoxia, suggesting a biphasic response to low oxygen conditions which probably is related to the polychaete's mode of life. The presence of sulphide resulted in a higher anaerobic energy flux and a more pronounced energy production via glycolysis than in anoxia alone. Nevertheless, after sulphide exposure under anaerobic conditions of <24 h, Arndt & Schiedek (1997) observed Nephtys hombergii to recover completely. Although Nephtys hombergii appears to be well adapted to a habitat with short-term fluctuations in oxygen and appearance of hydrogen sulphide, its high energy demand as a predator renders it likely to limit its survival in an environment with longer lasting anoxia and concomitant sulphide exposure. For instance, Fallesen & Jørgensen (1991) recorded Nephtys hombergii in localities in Århus Bay, Denmark, where oxygen concentrations were permanently or regularly low, but in the late summer of 1982 a severe oxygen deficiency killed populations of Nephtys species (Nephtys hombergii and Nephtys ciliata) in the lower part of the bay. However, Nephtys hombergii recolonized the affected area by the end of autumn the same year. Alheit (1978) reported a LC50 at 8°C of 23 days for Nephtys hombergii maintained under anaerobic conditions.

Nephtys hombergii have tolerated extreme hypoxia, leaving the sediment only after 11 days (Nilsson & Rosenberg, 1994). Nephtys hombergii in artificially created anoxic conditions were shown to survive for at least 5d (Schöttler, 1982) and do not switch from aerobic to anerobic metabolic pathways until oxygen saturation decreases <12% (Schöttler, 1982).

Macoma balthica appears to be relatively tolerant of deoxygenation. Brafield & Newell (1961) frequently observed that in conditions of oxygen deficiency (e.g. less than 1 mg O2/l). Macoma balthica moved upwards to fully expose itself on the surface of the sand. Specimens lay on their side with the foot and siphons retracted but with valves gaping slightly allowing the mantle edge to be brought into full contact with the more oxygenated surface water lying between sand ripples. In addition, Macoma balthica was observed under laboratory conditions to extend its siphons upwards out of the sand into the overlying water when water was slowly deoxygenated with a stream of nitrogen. The lower the oxygen concentration became the further the siphons extended. Dries & Theede (1974) reported the following LT50 (medial lethal time) values for Macoma balthica maintained in anoxic conditions: 50 - 70 days at 5°C, 30 days at 10°C, 25 days at 15°C and 11 days at 20°C. Theede (1984) reported that the ability of Macoma balthica to resist extreme oxygen deficiency was mainly due to cellular mechanisms. Of considerable importance are sufficient accumulations of reserve compounds e.g. glycogen and the ability to reduce energy requirements for maintenance of life by reducing overall activity (Theede, 1984). Macoma balthica is therefore very tolerant of hypoxia, although it may react by reducing metabolic activity. Intolerance is therefore assessed as low. Metabolic function should quickly return to normal when normoxic levels are resumed and so recoverability is recorded as very high. Macoma balthica have been shown experimentally to be able to resist time periods of 9 weeks under algal cover (arising from organic enrichment), their long siphon allowing them to reach oxygenated water (Thiel et al., 1998).

Streblospio shrubsolii characteristic species communities in polluted environments (Cooksey & Hyland, 2007) and in Ria de Averio, western Portugal Streblospio shrubsolii and Tubificoides benedii were characterizing species of communities in estuarine sample sites further upstream where exposure to dissolved oxygen concentration was likely to be lowest (Rodrigues et al., 2011).

Sensitivity assessment. The characterizing species are adapted to intertidal areas where resistance to low dissolved oxygen concentration is required and therefore resistance is assessed as ‘High’ and resilience as ‘High’ and the biotope is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’ at the pressure benchmark level.

High
High
High
High
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Medium
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Nutrient enrichment [Show more]

Nutrient enrichment

Benchmark. Compliance with WFD criteria for good status. Further detail

Evidence

The biotope is likely to be Not sensitive to the pressure at the benchmark level, however evidence was available on responses to reductions in water quality.

Nephtys hombergii showed resistance to increased pollution in studies along the Spanish Catalan coast. Changes in species composition parallel to the shoreline showed greatest abundance of Nephtys hombergii occurred at sample sites closer to water sewage discharges and river outflow (in comparison to non-polluted sites) (Cardell et al., 1999). For the entire species communities, these sites contained greater biomass but reduced species diversity suggesting Nephtys hombergii was amongst a small number of species that could exploit these conditions. Nephtys hombergii lives infaunally between a depth of 5 and 15 cm where light is not transmitted. An increase in turbidity, associated with is unlikely to have a detectable effect on the viability of the species.

Streblospio shrubsolii occurred amongst other pollution tolerant species including the polychaetes Capitella capitata, Polydora ciliata, and Manayunkia aestuarina and the oligochaetes Peloscolex benendeni and Tubifex pseudogaste in the Tees estuary during periods of gross pollution in 1971-1973 (Gray, 1976).

Sensitivity assessment. The characterizing species show High resistance to increased nutrient enrichment, resilience is therefore also High, and the biotope is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’.

High
High
Medium
High
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
High
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Organic enrichment [Show more]

Organic enrichment

Benchmark. A deposit of 100 gC/m2/yr. Further detail

Evidence

The infaunal habit of Nephtys hombergii and its ability to burrow relatively rapidly through, and into the substratum are likely to aid the species in its avoidance of unsuitable conditions. Nephtys spp. were present in organically enriched sediments  along the Catalan Spanish coast (Cardell et al., 1999) suggesting the species is likely to be resistant to some organic enrichment.

In Ria de Averio, western Portugal Streblospio shrubsolii and Tubificoides benedii were characterizing species of communities further upstream in estuarine sample sites, at sites  with increased organic matter (Rodrigues et al., 2011). Streblospio shrubsolii are also considered characteristic species communities in polluted environments, suggesting the species is likely to be resistant to increased organic enrichment (Cooksey & Hyland, 2007).

Sensitivity assessment. The characterizing species show High resistance to increased organic enrichment, resilience is therefore also High, and the biotope is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’.

High
High
Medium
Medium
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
Medium
Medium
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Physical Pressures

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Physical loss (to land or freshwater habitat) [Show more]

Physical loss (to land or freshwater habitat)

Benchmark. A permanent loss of existing saline habitat within the site. Further detail

Evidence

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 assessment. 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
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High
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Very Low
High
High
High
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High
High
High
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Physical change (to another seabed type) [Show more]

Physical change (to another seabed type)

Benchmark. Permanent change from sedimentary or soft rock substrata to hard rock or artificial substrata or vice-versa. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is only found in sediment, in particular, sandy mud and the burrowing organisms, Nephtys hombergii, Macoma balthica, Streblospio shrubsolii and Tubificoides benedii would not be able to survive if the substratum type was changed to either a soft rock or hard artificial type. Consequently the biotope would be lost altogether if such a change occurred. 

Sensitivity assessment. Biotope resistance is assessed as 'None' as a change at the pressure benchmark would result in loss of the biotope. Resilience is assessed as 'Very low' as a change at the pressure benchmark is permanent.  Sensitivity within the direct spatial footprint of this pressure  is, therefore, assessed as ‘High’.  Although no specific evidence is described confidence in this assessment is ‘High’, due to the incontrovertible nature of this pressure.

None
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Very Low
High
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High
High
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Physical change (to another sediment type) [Show more]

Physical change (to another sediment type)

Benchmark. Permanent change in one Folk class (based on UK SeaMap simplified classification). Further detail

Evidence

The change in one Folk class is considered to relate to a change in the sediment classification to adjacent categories in the modified Folk triangle (Long, 2006). For this biotope three adjacent categories are relevant, these include a change from sandy mud to i) muddy sand, mud or ii) gravelly mud or a change from sand to iii) gravelly sand.

High densities of Nephtys hombergii were found in substrata of 0.3% particles >0.25mm and 5.8% <0.125mm in diameter but the worm tolerated up to 3.8% 0.25mm and 2.2-15.9% <0.125mm (Clark et al.,1962). Nephtys hombergii may be found in higher densities in muddy environments and this tends to isolate it from Nephtys cirrosa, which is characteristic of cleaner, fairly coarse sand. An increase in gravel content, although tolerated by Nephtys hombergii may lead to increased abundance of Nephtys cirrosa and decreased abundance of Nephtys hombergii. Degraer et al. (2006) summarise that the higher the medium grain size of the sediment the lower the relative occurrence of Nephtys hombergii and in gain sizes over 0.5mm the species was absent in the Belgium part of the North Sea.

Macoma balthica is likely to tolerate increased gravel content as sediment was not shown to affect burrowing (Tallqvist, 2001), however, growth, shell size and body mass were greatest in higher sand content sediment and lower in higher gravel content sediments (Azouzi et al., 2002), suggesting long-term health and abundance may be affected by a permanent increase in gravel content.

Silva et al. (2006) found Streblospio shrubsolii in an estuarine site in western Portugal, were more closely associated with increasing mud content and decreasing gravel content.

An increase in mud content may also lead to a change to the biotope LS.LMu.UEst.Tben which ccurs in lower salinities, in mud with a smaller sand fraction, at the head of estuaries. The infauna is a lot poorer, consisting almost exclusively of oligochaetes and, in some cases,Capitella capitata (Conner et al. 2004).

Sensitivity assessment. Characterizing species are resistant to increases in mud content although changes in lower salinitiy regions may lead to changes to the biotope LS.LMu.UEst.Tben. Increase in gravel content may have a greater imapct on the biotope and lead to replacement of Nephtys hombergii by Nephtys cirrosa, which is characteristic of cleaner, fairly coarse sand. Resistance is assessed as 'Low', Resilience is 'Very low'  and Sensitivity as a change at the pressure benchmark is permanenet and sensitivity is assessed as 'High.

Low
High
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Medium
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Very Low
High
High
High
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High
Low
Low
Low
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Habitat structure changes - removal of substratum (extraction) [Show more]

Habitat structure changes - removal of substratum (extraction)

Benchmark. The extraction of substratum to 30 cm (where substratum includes sediments and soft rock but excludes hard bedrock). Further detail

Evidence

The substratum of this biotope consists of soft wet mud with a fine sand fraction (Conner et al., 2004).  The characterizing species burrow into the sediment, or tunnel to depths not exceeding 30cm. The process of extraction is considered to remove all biological components of the biotope group.  If extraction occurred across the entire biotope, loss of the biotope would occur. Recovery would require substratum to return to soft wet mud with a fine sand fraction.

The characterizing species Nephtys hombergii and Macoma balthica burrow into the sediment, to depths not exceeding 30cm. The process of extraction is considered to remove all biological components of the biotope group.  If extraction occurred across the entire biotope, loss of the biotope would occur. Recovery would require substratum to return to fine sand and muddy sand sediments with scattered pebbles, boulders and cobbles. Recovery of benthic infauna communities from an impact such as extraction of substratum (from activities such as use of bottom towed fishing gears, aggregate dredging or storm impacts) is predicted to follow succession from initial colonization community of opportunistic species that reproduce rapidly, have small body sizes, short lifespans and early reproductive ages, through to a transitional community and finally an equilibrium community of slower growing, longer lived, larger species (Newell et al., 1998). 

Hiddink (2003) showed that the density of Macoma balthica was reduced in areas in the Wadden sea (Netherlands) that had experienced suction dredging for cockles, which removes the surface sediment, The disturbance to the sediment also appeared to leave the habitat less suitable for settlement of young Macoma balthica (Hiddink, 2003).

Smaller scale extraction of patches of substratum through activities such as bait digging may have impacts over finer spatial scales within the biotope. If the impact is not spread over a larger area the effects are likely to occur within the dug area.

Sensitivity assessment. Resistance to the pressure is considered ‘None’, and resilience ‘High’ based on the presence of suitable substratum.  Biotope sensitivity has been assessed as Medium. (It should be noted that recovery could be longer and sensitivity greater, where remaining sediments are unsuitable).

None
Medium
Medium
Medium
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Very Low
Medium
Medium
Medium
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High
Medium
Medium
Medium
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Abrasion / disturbance of the surface of the substratum or seabed [Show more]

Abrasion / disturbance of the surface of the substratum or seabed

Benchmark. Damage to surface features (e.g. species and physical structures within the habitat). Further detail

Evidence

Damage to seabed surface features may occur due to human activities such as bottom towed fishing gear (trawling and dredging) and natural disturbance from storms.  Abrasion from boat moorings  were  demonstrated to also impact species communities close to the mooring buoy in a case study in the Fal and Helford estuaries (south  west UK ). Coarser sediment was exposed close to mooring buoys, caused by  suspension  of fine sediments by movement of the chain (Latham et al., 2012). However, fine sand and muddy sediments displayed the least influence from disturbance from moorings, suggesting a smaller impact to this biotope than other intertidal biotopes.

Sensitivity assessment. The characterizing species are burrowing infauna and likely to be relatively protected from a single event of abrasion at the surface, biotope resistance is therefore assessed as 'Medium' and resilience as 'High' so that biotope sensitivity is 'Low'.

Low
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High
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Medium
Medium
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Low
High
Medium
Medium
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Penetration or disturbance of the substratum subsurface [Show more]

Penetration or disturbance of the substratum subsurface

Benchmark. Damage to sub-surface features (e.g. species and physical structures within the habitat). Further detail

Evidence

 As the characterizing species are burrowing species the impact from damage to the sub-surface sea bed would be greater than damage to the sea bed surface.

Collie et al. (2000) found that abundance of Nephtys hombergii  declined as a result of fishing activities and mean response of infauna and epifauna communities to fishing activities was much more negative in mud and sand communities than other habitats. Nephtys hombergii abundance also significantly decreased in areas of the Solent, UK, where bait digging (primarily for Nereis virens) had occurred (Watson et al. 2007). Similarly, 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.  Resistance of the biotope is assessed as ‘Low’, although the significance of the impact for the biotope will depend on the spatial scale of the pressure footprint.  Resilience is assessed as ‘High’, and sensitivity is assessed as ‘Low’.

Low
High
High
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High
High
Medium
High
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Low
High
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Low
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Changes in suspended solids (water clarity) [Show more]

Changes in suspended solids (water clarity)

Benchmark. A change in one rank on the WFD (Water Framework Directive) scale e.g. from clear to intermediate for one year. Further detail

Evidence

This biotope is probably exposed to the high levels of suspended sediment characteristic of estuarine conditions. Therefore, the resident species are probably adapted to high suspended sediment levels.

Changes in light penetration or attenuation associated with this pressure are not relevant to Nephtys hombergii and Macoma balthica biotopes. As the species live in the sediment they are also likely to be adapted to increased suspended sediment (and turbidity). However, alterations in the availability of food or the energetic costs in obtaining food or changes in scour could either increase or decrease habitat suitability for characterizing species.

Increases in turbidity may reduce benthic diatom productivity and productivity of phytoplankton in the water column. Increased clarity, however, may increase primary production. In cases of increased turbidity, impacts may be small for Nephtys hombergii as the species feeds on a range of prey in the sediment and reductions in phytoplankton may be mitigated but may limit prey resources, where these are suspension feeders relying on organic solids or phytoplankton.    

An increase in suspended solids (inorganic or organic) may also increase food availability of deposit feeders if sediment containing meiofauna, bacteria or organic particles is transported in the water column. However, higher energetic expenditure to unclog the feeding apparatus may occur, which may alter habitat suitability.

An increase in food availability through either increased phytoplankton abundance (under increased water clarity) or increased food resources suspended in the water column (under increased turbidity) may enhance growth and reproduction of both suspension and deposit feeding species.

Sensitivity assessmentResistance is ‘High’ as no significant negative effects are identified and potential benefits from increased food resources may occur, based on expert judgement, utilising evidence of species traits and distribution.  Resilience is also ‘High’ as no recovery is required under the likely impacts. Sensitivity of the biotope is therefore, assessed as ‘Not Sensitive’.

High
Low
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
Low
Low
Low
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Smothering and siltation rate changes (light) [Show more]

Smothering and siltation rate changes (light)

Benchmark. ‘Light’ deposition of up to 5 cm of fine material added to the seabed in a single discrete event. Further detail

Evidence

The biotope is located mainly in soft wet mud with a fine sand fraction, on the mid and lower shore of sheltered estuaries (Connor et al., 2004). These locations would be likely to experience some redistribution of fine material during tidal cycles. Although the biotope occurs in sheltered locations some mixing from wave action may also be expected. 

Powilleit et al., (2009) studied the response of the polychaete Nephtys hombergii to smothering. This species successfully migrated to the surface of 32-41 cm deposited sediment layer of till or sand/till mixture and restored contact with the overlying water.  The high escape potential could partly be explained by the heterogeneous texture of the till and sand/till mixture with ‘voids’.  While crawling upward to the new sediment surfaces burrowing velocities of up to 20 cm/day were recorded for Nephtys hombergii. Similarly, Bijkerk (1988, results cited from Essink 1999) indicated that the maximal overburden through which species could migrate was 60 cm through mud for Nephtys and 90 cm through sand. No further information was available on the rates of survivorship or the time taken to reach the surface.

Macoma balthica is able to burrow both vertically and horizontally through the substratum. It is likely that Macoma balthica is not sensitive to smothering by a layer of sediment 5 cm thick as it is a mobile species able to burrow upwards and surface from a depth of 5 - 6 cm (Brafield & Newell, 1961; Brafield, 1963; Stekoll et al., 1980). Turk and Risk (1981) investigated the effect of experimentally induced sedimentation (through fences and boxes that induced sediment deposition on intertidal mudflats in the Bay of Fundy), of 1-3.5cm at a rate of 1.9-10.2 cm/month. The results showed that Macoma balthica was generally unaffected.

Sensitivity assessment. Based on the available evidence, resistance of the characterizing species Nephtys hombergii and Macoma balthica is likely to be 'High', and biotope resistance is assessed as 'High' although some short-term changes in sediments may occur, resilience is also ‘High’ and sensitivity is assessed as ‘Not Sensitive’. Confidence in this assessment is lower as the assessment is based on traits of the species characterizing the biotope and the relevant direct case studies present examples where impacts are not from single discrete events.

High
High
High
High
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
High
High
High
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Smothering and siltation rate changes (heavy) [Show more]

Smothering and siltation rate changes (heavy)

Benchmark. ‘Heavy’ deposition of up to 30 cm of fine material added to the seabed in a single discrete event. Further detail

Evidence

Limited evidence was found on responses of characterizing species to a deposition of up to 30cm of fine material. 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. The pressure benchmark (30 cm deposit) represents a significant burial event and the deposit may remain for some time in sheltered habitats. Some impacts on some characterizing species may occur and it is considered unlikely that significant numbers of the population could reposition, based on Bolam (2011). Polychaete species have been reported to migrate through depositions of sediment greater that the benchmark (30 cm of fine material added to the seabed in a single discrete event) (Maurer et al., 1982). However, it is not clear whether the characterizing species are likely to be able to migrate through a maximum thickness of fine sediment because muds tend to be more cohesive and compacted than sand. Some mortality of the characterizing species is likely to occur. Placement of the deposit will, therefore, result in a defaunated habitat until the deposit is recolonized

Powilleit et al., (2009) studied the response of the polychaete Nephtys hombergii to smothering. This species successfully migrated to the surface of 32-41 cm deposited sediment layer of till or sand/till mixture and restored contact with the overlying water.  The high escape potential could partly be explained by the heterogeneous texture of the till and sand/till mixture with ‘voids’.  While crawling upward to the new sediment surfaces burrowing velocities of up to 20 cm/day were recorded for Nephtys hombergii. Similarly, Bijkerk (1988, results cited from Essink 1999) indicated that the maximal overburden through which species could migrate was 60 cm through mud for Nephtys and 90 cm through sand. No further information was available on the rates of survivorship or the time taken to reach the surface.

Macoma balthica is able to burrow both vertically and horizontally through the substratum. It is likely that Macoma balthica is not sensitive to smothering by a layer of sediment 5 cm thick as it is a mobile species able to burrow upwards and surface from a depth of 5 - 6 cm (Brafield & Newell, 1961; Brafield, 1963; Stekoll et al., 1980). Turk and Risk (1981) investigated the effect of experimentally induced sedimentation (through fences and boxes that induced sediment deposition on intertidal mudflats in the Bay of Fundy), of 1-3.5 cm at a rate of 1.9-10.2 cm/month. The results showed that Macoma balthica was generally unaffected.

Bolam (2011) showed that Streblospio shrubsolii  vertical migration capability was reduced by deposition of just 6cm simulated dredged material. Tubificoides benedii showed good recovery following deposition of material. Rosenberg (1977) found recruitment of benthic species was heavily reduced in the vicinity of a dredged area, suggesting the increased turbidity was likely to be responsible. Contamination, for example from hydrocarbons may be an added impact if deposited sediment has been carried from a source of pollution such as oil drilling sites (Gray et al., 1990). These impacts are considered in the ‘pollution and other chemical changes’ section.

Sensitivity assessment. Deposition of up to 30cm of fine material is likely to provide different impacts for the different species characterizing the biotope. The characterizing species Nephtys hombergii is likely to burrow and reposition through a fine sediment overburden at the pressure benchmark but other species such as Steblospio shrubsolii and Macoma balthica may be smothered. The addition of fine sediments will also alter the sediment habitat.  Biotope resistance is, therefore, assessed as ‘Low’ and resilience is assessed as ‘High’ (although this may be prolonged where sediments are not rapidly removed and habitat recovery times are prolonged). Biotope sensitivity is assessed as 'Low'.

Low
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Medium
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High
High
Low
Medium
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Low
High
Low
Medium
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Litter [Show more]

Litter

Benchmark. The introduction of man-made objects able to cause physical harm (surface, water column, seafloor or strandline). Further detail

Evidence

No evidence was returned on the impact of litter on characterizing species for this biotope, although studies show impacts from ingestion of micro plastics by sub surface deposit feeding worms (Arenicola marina) and toxicants present in cigarette butts have been shown to impact the burrowing times and cause DNA damage in ragworms Hediste diversicolor.

Litter, in the form of cigarette butts has been shown to have an impact on Ragworms. Hediste diversicolor showed increased burrowing times, 30% weight loss and a  >2 fold increase in DNA damage when exposed to water with toxicants (present in cigarette butts) in quantities 60 fold lower than reported from urban run-off (Wright et al., 2015). Studies are limited on impacts of litter on infauna and this UK study suggests health of infauna populations are negatively impacted by this pressure.

Studies of sediment dwelling, sub surface deposit feeding worms, a trait shared by species abundant in this biotope, showed negative impacts from ingestion of micro plastics. For instance, Arenicola marina ingests micro-plastics that are present within the sediment it feeds within. Wright et al. (2013) carried out a laboratory study that showed the presence of micro-plastics (5% UPVC) significantly reduced feeding activity when compared to concentrations of 1% UPVC and controls. As a result, Arenicola marina showed significantly decreased energy reserves (by 50%), took longer to digest food, and as a result decreased bioturbation levels which would be likely to impact colonisation of sediment by other species, reducing diversity in the biotopes the species occurs within. 

Sensitivity assessment. Evidence and confidence in the assessment is limited and this pressure is 'Not assessed'.

Not Assessed (NA)
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Not assessed (NA)
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Not assessed (NA)
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Electromagnetic changes [Show more]

Electromagnetic changes

Benchmark. A local electric field of 1 V/m or a local magnetic field of 10 µT. Further detail

Evidence

No evidence was found on effects of electric and magnetic fields on the characterizing species.

Electric and magnetic fields generated by sources such as marine renewable energy device/array cables may alter behaviour of predators and affect infauna populations. Evidence is limited and occurs for electric and magnetic fields below the benchmark levels, confidence in evidence of these effects is very low.

Field measurements of electric fields at North Hoyle wind farm, North Wales recorded 110µ V/m (Gill et al. 2009). Modelled results of magnetic fields from typical subsea electrical cables, such as those used in the renewable energy industry produced magnetic fields of between 7.85 and 20 µT (Gill et al. 2009; Normandeau et al. 2011). Electric and magnetic fields smaller than those recorded by in field measurements or modelled results were shown to create increased movement in thornback ray Raja clavata and attraction to the source in catshark Scyliorhinus canicular (Gill et al. 2009).

Flatfish species which are predators of many polychaete species including dab Limanda limanda and sole Solea solea have been shown to decrease in abundance in a wind farm array or remain at distance from wind farm towers (Vandendriessche et al., 2015; Winter et al. 2010). However, larger plaice increased in abundance (Vandendriessche et al., 2015). There have been no direct causal links identified to explain these results.

Sensitivity assessment. ‘No evidence’ was available to complete a sensitivity assessment, however, responses by flatfish and elasmobranchs suggest changes in predator behaviour are possible. There is currently no evidence but effects may occur on predator prey dynamics as further marine renewable energy devices are deployed, these are likely to be over small spatial scales and not impact the biotope.

No evidence (NEv)
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No evidence (NEv)
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No evidence (NEv)
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Underwater noise changes [Show more]

Underwater noise changes

Benchmark. MSFD indicator levels (SEL or peak SPL) exceeded for 20% of days in a calendar year. Further detail

Evidence

Species within the biotope can probably detect vibrations caused by noise and in response may retreat into the sediment for protection. However, at the benchmark level the community is unlikely to be sensitive to noise and this pressure is considered 'Not relevant'.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Introduction of light or shading [Show more]

Introduction of light or shading

Benchmark. A change in incident light via anthropogenic means. Further detail

Evidence

There is no direct evidence of effects of changes in incident light on the characterizing species of this biotope. All characterizing species live in the sediment and do not rely on light levels directly to feed or find prey so limited direct impact is expected.  As this biotope is not characterized by the presence of primary producers it is not considered that shading would alter the character of the habitat directly.

More general changes to the productivity of the biotope may, however, occur. Beneath shading structures there may be changes in microphytobenthos abundance. Littoral muddy sands support microphytobenthos on the sediment surface and within the sediment. The microphytobenthos consists of unicellular eukaryotic algae and cyanobacteria that grow within the upper several millimetres of illuminated sediments, typically appearing only as a subtle brownish or greenish shading. Mucilaginous secretions produced by these algae may stabilise fine substrata (Tait & Dipper, 1998).

Shading will prevent photosynthesis leading to death or migration of sediment microalgae altering sediment cohesion and food supply to higher trophic levels. The impact of these indirect effects is difficult to quantify.

Sensitivity assessment. Based on the direct impact, biotope resistance is assessed as ‘High’ and resilience is assessed as ‘High’ (by default) and the biotope is considered to be ‘Not sensitive’.

High
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High
High
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Not sensitive
Low
Low
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Barrier to species movement [Show more]

Barrier to species movement

Benchmark. A permanent or temporary barrier to species movement over ≥50% of water body width or a 10% change in tidal excursion. Further detail

Evidence

Barriers that reduce the degree of tidal excursion may alter larval supply to suitable habitats from source populations. Barriers may also act as stepping stones for larval supply over greater distances (Adams​ et al., 2014). Conversely, the presence of barriers at brackish waters may enhance local population supply by preventing the loss of larvae from enclosed habitats to environments, which are unfavourable, reducing settlement outside of the population. If a barrier (such as a tidal barrier) incorporated renewable energy  devices such as tidal energy turbines, these devices may affect hydrodynamics and so migration pathways for larvae into and out of the biotope (Adams et al., 2014). Evidence on this pressure is limited.

Sensitivity assessment. Resistance to this pressure is assessed as 'High' and resilience as 'High' by default. This biotope is therefore considered to be 'Not sensitive'.

High
Low
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High
High
High
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Not sensitive
Low
Low
Low
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Death or injury by collision [Show more]

Death or injury by collision

Benchmark. Injury or mortality from collisions of biota with both static or moving structures due to 0.1% of tidal volume on an average tide, passing through an artificial structure. Further detail

Evidence

Not relevant’ to seabed habitats.  NB. Collision by interaction with bottom towed fishing gears and moorings are addressed under ‘surface abrasion’.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Visual disturbance [Show more]

Visual disturbance

Benchmark. The daily duration of transient visual cues exceeds 10% of the period of site occupancy by the feature. Further detail

Evidence

Characterizing species may have some, limited, visual perception. As they live in the sediment the species will most probably not be impacted at the pressure benchmark and this pressure is considered 'Not relevant'.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Biological Pressures

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
Genetic modification & translocation of indigenous species [Show more]

Genetic modification & translocation of indigenous species

Benchmark. Translocation of indigenous species or the introduction of genetically modified or genetically different populations of indigenous species that may result in changes in the genetic structure of local populations, hybridization, or change in community structure. Further detail

Evidence

The key characterizing species in the biotope are not cultivated or likely to be trans-located. This pressure is therefore considered 'Not Relevant'.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Introduction or spread of invasive non-indigenous species [Show more]

Introduction or spread of invasive non-indigenous species

Benchmark. The introduction of one or more invasive non-indigenous species (INIS). Further detail

Evidence

Intertidal sediments may be colonized by a number of invasive non-indigenous species. Invasive species that alter the character of the biotope or that predate on characterizing species are most likely to result in significant impacts. Intertidal flats may be colonized by the invasive non-indigenous species Crepidula fornicata and the Pacific oyster Magallana gigas. The two species have not only attained considerable biomasses from Scandinavian to Mediterranean countries but have also generated ecological consequences such as alterations of benthic habitats and communities and food chain changes (OSPAR, 2009b).

The American slipper limpet Crepidula fornicata was introduced to the UK and Europe in the 1870s from the Atlantic coasts of North America with imports of the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica. It was recorded in Liverpool in 1870 and the Essex coast in 1887-1890. It has spread through expansion and introductions along the full extent of the English Channel and into the European mainland (Blanchard, 1997, 2009; Bohn et al., 2012, 2013a, 2013b, 2015; De Montaudouin et al., 2018; Helmer et al., 2019; Hinz et al., 2011; McNeill et al., 2010; Powell-Jennings & Calloway, 2018; Preston et al., 2020; Stiger-Pouvreau & Thouzeau, 2015).

Crepidula fornicata is recorded from shallow, sheltered bays, lagoons and estuaries or the sheltered sides of islands, in variable salinity (18 to 40) although it prefers ca 30 (Tillin et al., 2020). Larvae require hard substrata for settlement. It prefers muddy gravelly, shell-rich, substrata that include gravel, or shells of other Crepidula, or other species e.g., oysters, and mussels. It is highly gregarious and seeks out adult shells for settlement, forming characteristic ‘stacks’ of adults. But it also recorded in a wide variety of habitats including clean sands, artificial substrata, Sabellaria alveolata reefs and areas subject to moderately strong tidal streams (Blanchard, 1997, 2009; Bohn et al., 2012, 2013a, 2013b, 2015; De Montaudouin et al., 2018; Hinz et al., 2011; Powell-Jennings & Calloway, 2018; Preston et al., 2020; Stiger-Pouvreau & Thouzeau, 2015; Tillin et al., 2020).

High densities of Crepidula fornicata cause ecological impacts on sedimentary habitats. The species can form dense carpets that can smother the seabed in shallow bays, changing and modifying the habitat structure. At high densities, the species physically smothers the sediment, and the resultant build-up of silt, pseudofaeces, and faeces is deposited and trapped within the bed (Tillin et al., 2020, Fitzgerald, 2007, Blanchard, 2009, Stiger-Pouvreau & Thouzeau, 2015). The biodeposition rates of Crepidula are extremely high and once deposited, form an anoxic mud, making the environment suitable for other species, including most infauna (Stiger-Pouvreau & Thouzeau, 2015, Blanchard, 2009). For example, in fine sands, the community is replaced by a reef of slipper limpets, that provide hard substrata for sessile suspension-feeders (e.g., sea squirts, tube worms and fixed shellfish), while mobile carnivorous microfauna occupy species between or within shells, resulting in a homogeneous Crepidula dominated habitat (Blanchard, 2009). Blanchard (2009) suggested the transition occurred and became irreversible at 50% cover of the limpet. De Montaudouin et al. (2018) suggested that homogenization occurred above a threshold of 20-50 Crepidula /m2.

Impacts on the structure of benthic communities will depend on the type of habitat that Crepidula colonizes. De Montaudouin & Sauriau (1999) reported that in muddy sediment dominated by deposit-feeders, species richness, abundance and biomass increased in the presence of high densities of Crepidula (ca 562 to 4772 ind./m2), in the Bay of Marennes-Oléron, presumably because the Crepidula bed provided hard substrata in an otherwise sedimentary habitat. In medium sands, Crepidula density was moderate (330-1300 ind./m2) but there was no significant difference between communities in the presence of Crepidula. Intertidal coarse sediment was less suitable for Crepidula with only moderate or low abundances (11 ind./m2) and its presence did not affect the abundance or diversity of macrofauna. However, there was a higher abundance of suspension–feeders and mobile Crustacea in the absence of Crepidula (De Montaudouin & Sauriau, 1999). The presence of Crepidula as an ecosystem engineer has created a range of new niche habitats, reducing biodiversity as it modifies habitats (Fitzgerald, 2007). De Montaudouin et al. (1999) concluded that Crepidula did not influence macroinvertebrate diversity or density significantly under experimental conditions, on fine sands in Arcachon Bay, France. De Montaudouin et al. (2018) noted that the limpet reef increased the species diversity in the bed, but homogenised diversity compared to areas where the limpets were absent. In the Milford Haven Waterway (MHW), the highest densities of Crepidula were found in areas of sediment with hard substrata, e.g., mixed fine sediment with shell or gravel or both (grain sizes 16-256 mm) but, while Crepidula density increased as gravel cover increased in the subtidal, the reverse was found in the intertidal (Bohn et al., 2015). Bohn et al. (2015) suggested that high densities of Crepidula in high-energy environments were possible in the subtidal but not the intertidal, suggesting the availability of this substratum type is beneficial for its establishment. Hinz et al. (2011) reported a substantial increase in the occurrence of Crepidula off the Isle of Wight, between 1958 and 2006, at a depth of ca 60 m, on hard substrata (gravel, cobbles, and boulders), swept by strong tidal streams. Presumably, Crepidula is more tolerant of tidal flow than the oscillatory flow caused by wave action which may be less suitable (Tillin et al., 2020).

The availability of hard substrata (e.g., gravel) may only restrict initial colonization as higher densities of Crepidula function as substrata for subsequent colonization (Thieltges et al., 2004; Blanchard, 2009). However, Bohn et al. (2015) noted that Crepidula occurred at low density or was absent in areas of homogenous fine sediment and areas dominated by boulders. Bohn et al. (2015) suggested that wave action (exposure) probably prevented the establishment of large numbers of Crepidula in high-energy areas. Blanchard (2009) noted that sandy areas in the Bay of Saint-Mont Michel were not colonized by Crepidula because of surface sand mobility. Thieltges et al. (2003) also noted that storm events removed some clumps of mussels and presumably Crepidula onto tidal flats where they disappeared, which caused their abundance to fluctuate. Similarly, Crepidula was absent from sandy substrata in Swansea Bay but was most abundant in the shelter of the breakwater at the Swansea east site (Powell-Jennings & Calloway, 2018). Powell-Jennings & Calloway (2018) noted that Crepidula is killed by sudden burial and possibly burial due to deposition, which could mitigate Crepidula density. In addition, in the MHW, the highest densities of Crepidula were found in areas of sediment with hard substrata, e.g., mixed fine sediment with shell, or gravel or both but, while Crepidula density increased as gravel cover increased in the subtidal, the reverse was found in the intertidal (Bohn et al., 2015). However, gravel formed the base of most stacks of Crepidula in the intertidal, which suggested that initial colonization occurred on available hard substrata (i.e., gravel) in the absence of adult shells of Crepidula (Bohn et al., 2015).

Crepidula is recorded from the lower intertidal to ca 160 m in depth but it is most common in the shallow subtidal and low water springs (Blanchard, 1997; Thieltges et al., 2003; Bohn et al., 2012, 2015; Hinz et al., 2011; OBIS, 2023; Tillin et al., 2020). Bohn et al. (2012, 2013a, 2013b, 2015) suggested that extreme conditions in intertidal limited its upward distribution due to early post-settlement mortality. It reached its highest densities on the lower shore (below ca 0.7 m) and was absent from the high tidal level (ca 1.8 m) in the MHW (Bohn et al., 2015). Bohn et al. (2013b) noted that Crepidula spat in their experimental intertidal panels suffered high mortality of 78-100% during emersion by low water spring tides. Thieltges et al. (2003) noted that Crepidula abundance at the intertidal to the subtidal transition zone (ca 21/ m2) was significantly higher than in the upper, mid, and lower intertidal ca <3/ m2). Similarly, Diederich & Pechenik (2013) noted that Crepidula densities were not significantly different in the low intertidal (+0.2 m) and shallow subtidal (-1 m) but became lower at +0.4 and were absent above +0.6 m in Bissel Cove, Rhode Island where the mean high water was +1.38 m. They reported that intertidal adults experienced temperatures of ca 42°C, which were 15°C higher than subtidal adults. However, there was no significant difference in the tolerance of subtidal and intertidal adults with a lethal range of 33-37°C after three hours in the laboratory. Diederich & Pechenik (2013) suggested that adult Crepidula were living close to their upper thermal limit in Rhode Island and would be driven into the subtidal due to climate change. Diederich et al. (2015) reported that most juvenile Crepidula died after aerial exposure under laboratory conditions (20°C, 75% relative humidity), while adults from the intertidal and subtidal survived (26°C, 75% relative humidity). Franklin et al. (2023) noted that the body mass index of adult Crepidula did not decrease significantly in winter months in New Hampshire, USA, but did decrease in spring and summer, probably due to its investment in reproduction. 

The density of Crepidula populations in northern Europe (Germany, Denmark, and Norway) was significantly lower (ca <100/ m2) than in southern waters. Thieltges et al. (2004) reported that the population of Crepidula was affected strongly by cold winters in the Wadden Sea. The winters of 2001 and 2003 resulted in ca 56-64% mortality of intertidal Crepidula and up to 97% on one mussel bed, compared to only 11-14% in southern areas without frost. Crepidula almost vanished from the Wadden Sea after the 1978/79 winter and took ten years to recover due to moderate winters which regularly affected the population. Similarly, 25% mortality was observed in Crepidula populations on the south coast of the UK after the extreme 1962/63 winter (Crisp, 1964, Bohn et al., 2012). Thieltges et al. (2003) suggested that global warming may allow Crepidula populations to become more abundant in northern Europe.

In the Wadden Sea, the Pacific oyster Magallana gigas has colonized intertidal flats (Smaal et al., 2005). This species consumes pelagic larvae reducing recruitment (Smaal et al., 2005). The most severe effects are likely to occur from impacts on sediment, where Magallana gigas create reefs on sedimentary flats that will prevent recruitment of juveniles and will restrict access of infauna to the sediment-water interface impacting respiration and feeding of bivalves such as Macoma balthica and polychaetes such as Steblospio shrubsolii. Burrowing infauna such as Nephtys hombergii and oligochaetes may persist within sediments but the overall character of the mixed sediment biotope would be altered. Tillin et al. (2020) suggested that Magallana gigas could significantly alter intertidal sediments where adequate hard substrata or shell debris was present and the conditions allow reefs of the oyster to form, based on its occurrence in Poole Harbour, and reefs on littoral sediments in southern England, Ireland, France and the Wadden Sea (Herbert et al., 2016b).  

The Manila clam (Tapes philippinarium), which was introduced to Poole Harbour for aquaculture in 1998, has become a naturalised population on the intertidal mudflats (occurring at densities of 60 clams/m2 in some locations within the harbour (Jensen et al. 2004, cited in Caldow et al. 2007).  Densities of Cerastoderma edule and Abra tenuis increased following the introduction of the Manila clam but the abundance of Macoma balthica declined (Caldow et al., 2005), although the decline of these species may have been caused by tri-butyl tin pollution (Langston et al., 2003) and may have facilitated the naturalization of the Manila clam. The predatory veined whelk (Rapana venosa) and Hemigrapsus takinei are not established in the UK (although Hemigrapsus takinei has been recorded at two locations) could become significant predators of Cerastoderma edule and other species associated with the biotope in the future.

Sensitivity assessment. Intertidal muddy sands may be exposed to invasive species which can alter the character of the habitat (primarily Crepidula fornicata at the sublittoral fringe and Magallana gigas), leading to re-classification of this biotope. The above evidence suggests that this biotope is unsuitable for the colonization of Crepidula fornicata due to a lack of gravel, shells, or any other hard substrata used for larvae settlement (Tillin et al., 2020). Despite the sheltered to extremely sheltered conditions of the habitat that would otherwise be suitable for Crepidula, the mobility of the sediment is unsuitable and makes it unlikely for Crepidula to become established. There may be higher densities of Crepidula in the lower shore examples of the biotope, but the densities may be lower in the mid-shore, and it may be absent from the upper shore due to the unsuitable extreme conditions in the intertidal zone preventing Crepidula post-settlement recruitment and mitigating colonization (Bohn et al. 2015). In addition, Powell-Jennings & Calloway (2018) noted that Crepidula is killed by sudden burial and possibly burial due to deposition, which could mitigate Crepidula density. Therefore, in terms of Crepidula fornicata, resistance is assessed as 'High' and resilience as 'High' so the biotope is assessed as 'Not sensitive'. The confidence in the assessment is 'Low' because the sensitivity of this biotope to Crepidula is potentially site-specific, there is a risk of its introduction by artificial means, and the is a lack of direct evidence of Crepidula being reported to occur in the biotope. The effects of Magallana gigas on littoral sediments may be more severe (Herbert et al., 2016b; Tillin et al., 2020) but the lack of lack of gravel, shells, or any other hard substrata used for larvae settlement (Tillin et al., 2020) may also prevent colonization by the Pacific oyster. Further evidence on the colonization of littoral sands and muds by Magallana gigas is required before an assessment can be made. Hence, 'insufficient evidence' is recorded. 

Insufficient evidence (IEv)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Insufficient evidence (IEv)
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Introduction of microbial pathogens [Show more]

Introduction of microbial pathogens

Benchmark. The introduction of relevant microbial pathogens or metazoan disease vectors to an area where they are currently not present (e.g. Martelia refringens and Bonamia, Avian influenza virus, viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia virus). Further detail

Evidence

No evidence on the effect of microbial pathogens or metazoan disease vectors was found for Nephtys hombergii. Macoma balthica in Delaware Bay, north-east USA, was found to host Perkinsus genus pathogens Perkinsus andrewsi and Perkinsus marinus (Lindsay et al., 2007). Cerastoderma edule has been reported to host approximately 50 viruses, bacteria and fungi, and including turbellaria, digeneans and cestodes (Longshaw & Malham, 2013).

Sensitivity assessment. Based on the evidence for the Macoma balthica and Cerastoderma edule, it is likely that parasitic infection may indirectly alter the species composition of the biotope. Although less evidence was returned for the characterizing mollusc species Macoma balthica, similar impacts from introduction of pathogens are likely to be experienced for this species. Resistance is assessed as 'Medium', Resilience as 'High' and Sensitivity as 'Low'.

Medium
Low
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High
Low
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Low
Low
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Removal of target species [Show more]

Removal of target species

Benchmark. Removal of species targeted by fishery, shellfishery or harvesting at a commercial or recreational scale. Further detail

Evidence

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).

Hiddink (2003) found that the density of Macoma balthica was reduced in areas in the Wadden Sea (Netherlands) that had experienced suction dredging for cockles, which removes the surface sediment, The disturbance to the sediment also appeared to leave the habitat less suitable for settlement of young Macoma balthica (Hiddink, 2003). This study provides evidence of loss of a characterizing species from the biotope and that recovery is unlikely to occur until the sediment characteristics have returned to pre-impact conditions. Removal of target species such as cockles Cerastoderma edule or bait digging for Arenicola marina is likely to impact the biotope. The extent of the impact will depend on the fishing/removal method and spatial extent.

Sensitivity assessment. Resistance is ‘Low’ due to direct removal of a characterising species, that on commercial scales can remove a large proportion of the population. Resilience is assessed as ‘High’ as regions that are not regularly harvested may recover rapidly but it should be noted that continued harvesting will impact the population. Sensitivity is assessed as 'Low'. It is important to consider that the spatial extent and duration of harvesting is important to consider when assessing this pressure as smaller scale extraction may not impact the entire extent of the biotope but greater scale extraction over a long period could cause more severe impacts.

Low
High
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High
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Medium
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Low
High
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Medium
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Removal of non-target species [Show more]

Removal of non-target species

Benchmark. Removal of features or incidental non-targeted catch (by-catch) through targeted fishery, shellfishery or harvesting at a commercial or recreational scale. Further detail

Evidence

Hiddink (2003) showed that the density of Macoma balthica (as Macoma balthica) was reduced in areas in the Wadden sea (Netherlands) that had experienced suction dredging for cockles, which removes the surface sediment. The disturbance to the sediment also appeared to leave the habitat less suitable for settlement of young Macoma balthica (Hiddink, 2003). This study provides evidence of loss of a characterizing species from the biotope and that recovery is unlikely to occur until the sediment characteristics have returned to pre-impact conditions. Removal of target species such as cockles Cerastoderma edule or bait digging for Arenicola marina is likely to impact the biotope. The extent of the impact will depend on the fishing / removal method and spatial extent.

McLusky et al. (1983) found that Macoma balthica (as Macoma balthica) populations were unaffected in dug areas, following bait digging for lugworms suggesting the biotope would recover from this impact if it occurred over a limited spatial scale. 

Incidental removal of the characterizing species would alter the character of the biotope and the delivery of ecosystem services such as secondary production and bioturbation. Populations of characterizing species, such as Nephtys hombergii and Macoma balthica provide food for macroinvertebrates fish and birds and their loss could alter the provision of food to these species.

Sensitivity assessment. Removal of the characterizing species would alter the character of the biotope. Resistance is therefore assessed as ‘Low’ and resilience as ‘High’, so sensitivity is categorized as ‘Low’.

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Citation

This review can be cited as:

Ashley, M.,, Tillin, H.M., Williams, E., Tyler-Walters, H.,, Lloyd, K.A., & Watson, A., 2023. Nephtys hombergii, Macoma balthica and Streblospio shrubsolii in littoral sandy mud. In Tyler-Walters H. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 21-04-2024]. Available from: https://www.marlin.ac.uk/habitat/detail/1130

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Last Updated: 29/11/2023