Seapens, including Funiculina quadrangularis, and burrowing megafauna in undisturbed circalittoral fine mud

Summary

UK and Ireland classification

Description

Deep muds, especially in sea lochs, which support populations of sea pens such as Virgularia mirabilis and Pennatula phosphorea, but sometimes also with forests of the nationally scarce Funiculina quadrangularis. The sediment is usually extensively burrowed by crustaceans, the most common of which is Nephrops norvegicus, but Callianassa subterranea may also be present (the latter is likely to be under-recorded by grab sampling because it is deep burrowing). Lesueurigobius friesii is present at many sites. Amphiura spp. are usually present in high densities. (Information from Connor et al., 2004; JNCC, 2015).

Depth range

10-20 m, 20-30 m, 30-50 m

Additional information

Funiculina quadrangularis is also recorded in the Fladen Ground in the North Sea, and in the Minch, west Scotland (Greathead et al., 2007, 2011, 2015).

Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

Sensitivity characteristics of the habitat and relevant characteristic species

CFiMu.SpnMeg and CFiMU.SpnMeg.Fun are similar to CFiMU.MegMax (Connor et al., 2004) but differ in the relative abundance of sea pens (SpnMeg) and burrowing megafauna (MegMax). Connor et al. (2004) noted that MegMax often occurs in deeper water than SpnMeg but that the environmental factors that separate the biotopes are unclear. Hughes (1998a) suggested that the sea pen and burrowing megafauna communities exhibit a mosaic of patches of megafaunal communities depending on the level of disturbance. Hughes (1998a) also noted that the interaction between burrowing megafauna and sea pens was unknown, although they clearly co-exist.

SpnMeg and MegMax support a rich infauna of polychaetes, bivalves, burrowing sea urchins, brittlestars, and sea cucumbers, and a mobile epifauna of crabs and starfish. While the infaunal species composition varies between the biotopes, the infaunal and mobile epifaunal community is probably found across a range of circalittoral mud and deep mud habitats.  SpnMeg.Fun is found in slightly deeper waters, typical of the fjordic sea lochs and the Minch, and is characterized by the presence of Funiculina quadrangularis.  SpnMeg and SpnMeg.Fun may both support local populations of the rare burrowing anemone Pachycerianthus multiplicatus and occasional Cerianthus lloydii. Although Pachycerianthus multiplicatus is rare in the UK, loss of either burrowing anemone would not lead to a loss of the biotope.

Therefore, the sensitivity assessment of SpnMeg.Fun concentrates on the epifaunal, suspension feeding, sea pens because a significant reduction in their abundance, especially Funiculina quadrangularis, would result in the loss of the SpnMeg.Fun biotope. The sensitivity of burrowing megafauna and other species is discussed where relevant.

Resilience and recovery rates of habitat

Recent studies of oogenesis in Funiculina. quadrangularis and Pennatula phosphorea in Loch Linnhe, Scotland, demonstrated that they were dioecious, with 1:1 sex ratios, highly fecund, with continuous prolonged oocyte development and annual spawning (Edwards & Moore 2008; Edwards & Moore, 2009).  In Funiculina quadrangularis fecundity was high, expressed as 500-2000 per 1 cm midsection, but not correlated with size, and only a small proportion of the oocytes (<10%) matured.  Unlike Pennatula phosphorea, annual spawning occurred in autumn or winter (between October and January).  Also, the mature oocytes were very large (>800 µm), which suggested a lecithotrophic larval development (Edwards & Moore, 2009). In Pennatula phosphorea, oogenesis exceeded 12 months in duration, with many small oocytes of typically 50 per polyp giving an overall fecundity of ca 40,000 in medium to large specimens, depending on size.  However, <30% matured (synchronously) and were spawned in summer (July-August).  Mature oocytes were large (>500 µm) which suggested a lecithotrophic larval development (Edwards & Moore, 2008).

The lecithotrophic larval stage of Funiculina quadrangularis may result in a relatively long period of time in the water column and high potential dispersal ability and may explain the high gene flow observed between colonies of Funiculina quadrangularis in two Scotish sea lochs (Wright et al., 2015). Wright et al. (2015) found limited genetic population subdivision within and between populations of Funiculina quadrangularis in Loch Linnhe and Loch Duich. However, the high genetic diversity and unique genotypes supported the absence of asexual reproduction in this species (Wright et al., 2015). No similar studies were available for Virgularia mirabilis, but Edwards & Moore (2009) noted that many sea pens exhibited similar characteristics.  In a study of the intertidal Virgularia juncea, fecundity varied with length (46,000 at 50 cm and 87,000 at 70 cm), eggs reached a maximum size of 200-300 µm in May and were presumed to be spawned between August and September (Soong, 2005). Birkland (1974) found the lifespan of Ptilosarcus gurneyi to be 15 years, reaching sexual maturity between the ages of 5 and 6 years; while Wilson et al. (2002) noted that larger specimens of a tall sea pen (Halipteris willemoesi) in the Bering Sea were 44 years old, with a growth rate of 3.6 - 6.1 cm/year.

Sea pens were shown to recover rapidly from displacement and removal from the seabed. Funiculina quadrangularis and Pennatula phosphorea were found to right themselves when dislodged, with all Pennatula phosphorea individuals re-established and 50% of Funiculina quadrangularis after 72 hours (Eno et al., 2001).  Virgularia mirabilis was found to withdraw into its burrow rapidly (ca 30 seconds) and could not be uprooted by dragged creels (Hoare & Wilson 1977; Eno et al., 2001; Ambroso et al. 2013).  Pennatula phosphorea and Funiculina quadrangularis recovered with 72-96 hours after experimental smothering for 24 hours by pot or creel and after 96-144 hours of smothering for 48 hours (Kinnear et al. 1996; Eno et al. 2001).  In summary, all three sea pen species have been found to recover rapidly from the effects of dragging, uprooting and smothering (Eno et al., 2001). However, a later study of the effects of experimental trawling damage in the sea whip Halipteris willemoesi suggests that recovery in Funinculina quadrangularis may have been over-estimated. Halipteris willemoesi is a functionally similar species to Funiculina quadrangularis, as it is tall, thin, and cannot withdraw into the sediment.  Malecha & Stone (2009) simulated trawl damage in field populations in Alaskan waters, by abrading the sea whip with rubber disks (similar to rubber tire punch-outs used on the footrope of many trawls), dislodging them from the sediment and breaking the axial rod manually. All the specimens abraded repaired tissue damage and survived the experimental period. However, the authors noted that the experimental abrasion probably underestimated the effect of trawls as it did not include the mechanical force of the mobile gear and that even the smallest amount of tissue damage probably decreased the sea whip's ability to reproduce. Fifty percent of the dislodged sea whips were able to rebury and become erect within 18 days. Only 42% of the fractured sea whips were erect 18 days after treatment. However, only one specimen was erect after the 372 days of the experiment. There was no evidence to suggest that specimens could repair their damaged axial rods. After 372 days, 92% of the dislodged and 100% of the fractured specimens had substantial tissue loss and perished. Tissue loss was exaggerated by predation from nudibranchs, which appeared to be attracted to the experimental area, possibly due to the tissue damage suffered by the sea whips (Malecha & Stone, 2009).

Recovery from effects that remove a proportion of the sea pen population (e.g. bottom gears, hydrographic changes) will depend on recruitment processes and little is known about the life history and population dynamics of sea pens (Hughes, 1998a). Hughes (1998a) suggested that patchy recruitment, slow growth and long lifespan were typical of sea pens.  Larval settlement is likely to be patchy in space and highly episodic in time with no recruitment to the population taking place for some years.  Greathead et al. (2007) noted that patchy distribution is typical for sea pen populations.  In Holyhead harbour, for example, animals show a patchy distribution, probably related to larval settlement (Hoare & Wilson, 1977).  However, no information on larval development, settlement behaviour or dispersal was found.

Buchanan (1963) examined the population dynamics of Calocaris macandreae off the Northumberland coast.  The oldest individuals in that population appeared to be 9 years old and it was suggested that an age of almost ten years may be attained by a few (Buchanan, 1974).  Calocaris macandreae are hermaphrodites and eggs are produced at five years old.  Around 50 eggs are attached to the pleopods and are carried for nine months until September to October of the sixth year.  Annual moults follow but the next batch of eggs takes two years to mature and the second laying is at the end of the seventh year with occasionally a third at the end of the ninth year.  Mortality of a year group is almost wholly confined to the ninth and tenth years (Buchanan, 1974). Hughes (1998a) noted that age at maturity (5 years), low fecundity (producing only two to three batches of eggs in their lifetime) and long lifespan contributed to the stability of the population studied, which was very stable in numbers over a 10-year period. No evidence was found for recovery rates following disturbance.

Callianassa subterrranea is sexually dimorphic in that the mature male bears an enlarged major chela. In the North Sea, females were found bearing eggs from April to September, and planktonic larvae were most abundant in August. Larvae spent about four weeks in the plankton before settlement. Large females may have a secondary breeding period in late winter. Their lifespan was 2-3 years (Rowden & Jones, 1994; Hughes, 1998a).

Nephrops norvegicus reach sexual maturity at 2.5-3 years of age in females and after three years in males (Hughes, 1998a). In the Irish Sea, Nephrops norvegicus individuals are not thought to live more than 8 or 9 years and sexually mature at about 2.5 - 3 years. However, in deeper waters such as the Porcupine Bank, they may survive over 15 years (Marine Institute, 2001). In Scottish waters, eggs are spawned and fertilized between August and November and carried by the females until the larvae hatch in April to August (Hughes, 1998a). Local populations of Nephrops norvegicus may vary considerably in density, size and growth rate (Tuck et al., 1997) with fecundity also varying geographically (Eiriksson, 1970; Tuck et al., 1997). The percentage of eggs lost during development can range from 32 - 51% with larval mortalities as high as 87% (Garrod & Harding, 1980) which could reduce recovery rates. As a result, Nephrops norvegicus do not produce large numbers of offspring. The pelagic larval stage lasting up to 50 days (Hughes, 1998a; Johnson et al., 2013; Powell and Eriksson, 2013).  This may support long-range dispersal and recolonization of depleted populations, but water currents may prevent larvae reaching locations away from source populations and may remove larvae from populations preventing self-recruitment in small stocks (Johnson et al., 2013).  Recolonization of depleted populations may also be limited by the requirement for existing burrows for successful recruitment (Tuck et al., 1994, cited in Johnson et al., 2013).  Adults are essentially sedentary as tagging studies have revealed movements of no more than 100 m from their burrow in adult life (Chapman & Rice, 1971).  Therefore, potential recruitment from other populations of Nephrops norvegicus is low as larvae do not have a high dispersal potential and adults show no evidence of migration (Marine Institute, 2001). The resilience of Nephrops populations is assessed as ‘Medium’ (2-10 years) although confidence in the quality of evidence for recovery is low as this assessment is based on expert judgement, taking into consideration the apparent long-term stability of Nephrops fishing grounds (Ungfors et al., 2013).

Resilience assessment.  In SpnMeg.Fun (and SpnMeg) the resilience assessment is based on the recovery rates of the sea pens epifauna as the important characterizing species within the biotope. The characteristic burrowing megafauna is likely to recover more quickly, with perhaps the exception of Calocaris macandreae.   

Where the sea pens survive impact undamaged, that is resistance is ‘High’, recovery is rapid; a resilience of 'High' (<2 years).  Where a proportion of the population is removed or killed, then the species has a high dispersal potential and long-lived benthic larvae, but larval recruitment is probably sporadic and patchy and growth is slow, suggesting that recovery will take many years: a resilience of 'Low' (>10 years).  The assessment is based on literature on the life history of the three sea pen species but not their population dynamics or information inferred from on other species.  Therefore, the quality, applicability and concordance of the evidence are 'Medium'. 

The recovery rates for mud shrimp and Nephrops are likely to be dependent on the spatial scale of impact and the ability of adults to survive exposure and provide a potential supply of colonists. Callianassa subterrranea is short lived but produces numerous offspring with a high potential dispersal range, which suggests that recolonization and recovery may be rapid, e.g. within a few years.  The evidence from fishing grounds indicates that Nephrops norvegicus can persist in areas where they are subject to targeted removal, which suggests that the population can withstand and recover from repeated disturbances, but it is not clear what proportion of the population is removed and hence what the recovery rate to an undisturbed state would be.  The evidence above suggests that the mud shrimp and Nephrops component of the biotope would probably recover within 2-10 years; a resilience of Medium, depending on the scale of removal. Calocaris macandreae may be an exception.  Calocaris macandreae is long-lived, reaches sexual maturity only after five years, has a low fecundity and lacks a pelagic stage.  Therefore, local recruitment may be good, where a population remains but recovery of the abundance and age structure of a significantly reduced population would probably be prolonged and where the population experienced a significant reduction in abundance (e.g. resistance is Low), then resilience is likely to be Low (10-25 years).

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

In shallow sea lochs, sedimentary biotopes typically experience seasonal changes in temperature between 5°C and 15°C (10°C) (Hughes, 1998a). Although unusually warm summers or cold winters may change the temperatures outside this range, benthic burrowing species will be buffered from extremes by their presence in the sediment. The sea pens typical of CFiMu.SpMeg (except Funiculina quadrangularis) can also withdraw into their burrows for protection.  No information was found on the upper limit of sea pens tolerance to temperature. Virgularia mirabilis is recorded from western Europe, the Mediterranean, from Norway and Iceland to Africa in the North Atlantic, and to the Gulf of Mexico in North America (Hughes, 1998a; OBIS, 2016). Pennatula phosphorea is recorded in the North Sea and western British coasts but is absent from southern Britain (Hughes, 1998a).  Hughes (1998a) suggested that records from the Mediterranean and North Atlantic are confused with other species. Funiculina quadrangularis is only recorded from north and west coasts of Scotland and Ireland in the British Isles (Hughes, 1998a), but is also recorded in the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, North and South America, Japan and New Zealand (Manual 1981 cited in Hughes 1998a; OBIS, 2016). 

The distribution of sea pens suggests that they are probably resistant to a 2°C change in temperature. However, sea pens are subtidal and occur at depth where wide and rapid variations in temperature are not common and so may be less resistant of a short-term increase of 5°C. Therefore, a resistance of 'Medium' is suggested but with Low confidence. Resilience is probably 'Low' so that sensitivity is assessed as 'Medium'.

Medium
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Low
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Medium
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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

In shallow sea lochs, sedimentary biotopes typically experience seasonal changes in temperature between 5°C and 15°C (10°C) (Hughes, 1998a). Although unusually warm summers or cold winters may change the temperatures outside this range, benthic burrowing species will be buffered from extremes by their presence in the sediment. The sea pens typical of CFiMu.SpMeg (except Funiculina quadrangularis) can also withdraw into their burrows for protection.  No information was found on the upper limit of sea pens tolerance to temperature. Virgularia mirabilis is recorded from western Europe, the Mediterranean, from Norway and Iceland to Africa in the North Atlantic, and to the Gulf of Mexico in North America (Hughes, 1998a; OBIS, 2016). Pennatula phosphorea is recorded in the North Sea and western British coasts but is absent from southern Britain (Hughes, 1998a).  Hughes (1998a) suggested that records from the Mediterranean and North Atlantic are confused with other species. Funiculina quadrangularis is only recorded from north and west coasts of Scotland and Ireland in the British Isles (Hughes, 1998a), but is also recorded in the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, North and South America, Japan and New Zealand (Manual 1981 cited in Hughes 1998a; OBIS, 2016). 

The distribution of sea pens suggests that they are probably resistant to a  2°C change in temperature. However, sea pens are subtidal and occur at a depth where wide and rapid variations in temperature are not common and so may be less resistant of a short-term increase of 5°C. Therefore, a resistance of 'Medium' is suggested but with Low confidence. Resilience is probably 'Low' so that sensitivity is assessed as 'Medium'.

Medium
Low
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Low
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Medium
Low
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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

No information on the salinity tolerance of the three sea pens was found.  Jones et al. (2000) suggested that Virgularia mirabilis was more tolerant of reduced salinity due to its distribution in shallower waters.  MNCR data recorded Virgularia mirabilis and Pennatula phosphorea species from biotopes (SS.SMu.IFiMu.PhiVir; SS.SMu.CFiMu.SpnMeg) that occur in full and variable salinity but Funiculina quadrangularis was only recorded in biotopes at full salinity.  Analysis of survey data by Greathead et al. (2007), demonstrated that Virgularia mirabilis was the most ubiquitous of all three of the sea pens in Scotland, found in habitats nearer coastal areas and inner sea lochs.  For example, Virgularia mirabilis is characteristic of the SS.SMu.IFiMu.PhiVir biotope, which can occur at depths of only 0-5 m.  Greathead et al. (2007) suggested that Pennatula phosphorea was found in areas further from coastal areas and inner sea lochs, except in Loch Broom.  Funiculina quadrangularis demonstrated a preference for deeper waters rather than any other physicochemical factor (Greathead et al., 2007).

Pennatula phosphorea occurs in SS.SMu.CFiMu.SpnMeg at depths of >10 m, while Funiculina quadrangularis prefers deeper water (ca >20 m) where it is probably unexposed and hence intolerant to changes in salinity while Virgularia mirabilis is the most likely of the three sea pens to be exposed to variable salinity. Nevertheless, an increase in salinity to hypersaline conditions (>40 psu) for a year is probably detrimental to the sea pens and other epifauna, while deep burrowing species may be protected by their depth in the substratum. Therefore, Funiculina quadrangularis and Pennatula phosphorea probably have a resistance of 'None' but the resistance of Virgularia mirabilis is probably 'Low'.  Resilience is likely to be at least 'Low' and the resultant sensitivity is ‘High’ for all three speciesDue to the lack of direct evidence the assessment in resistance is made with Low confidence.

None
Low
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Low
Medium
Medium
Medium
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High
Low
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Low
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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

No information on the salinity tolerance of the three sea pens was found.  Jones et al. (2000) suggested that Virgularia mirabilis was more tolerant of reduced salinity due to its distribution in shallower waters.  MNCR data recorded Virgularia mirabilis and Pennatula phosphorea species from biotopes (SS.SMu.IFiMu.PhiVir; SS.SMu.CFiMu.SpnMeg) that occur in full and variable salinity but Funiculina quadrangularis was only recorded in biotopes at full salinity.  Analysis of survey data by Greathead et al. (2007), demonstrated that Virgularia mirabilis was the most ubiquitous of all three of the sea pens in Scotland, found in habitats nearer coastal areas and inner sea lochs.  For example, Virgularia mirabilis is characteristic of the SS.SMu.IFiMu.PhiVir biotope, which can occur at depths of only 0-5 m.  Greathead et al. (2007) suggested that Pennatula phosphorea was found in areas further from coastal areas and inner sea lochs, except in Loch Broom.  Funiculina quadrangularis demonstrated a preference for deeper waters rather than any other physicochemical factor (Greathead et al., 2007). 

Overall, the evidence suggests that Virgularia mirabilis is the most likely of the three sea pens to be exposed to variable salinity and its presence in shallow water biotopes suggests that it can tolerate occasionally reduced salinity while Funiculina quadrangularis is probably unexposed and hence intolerant to changes in salinity.  Pennatula phosphorea occurs in SS.SMu.CFiMu.SpnMeg at depths of >10m where it is probably unexposed and hence intolerant to changes in salinity.  Therefore, Virgularia mirabilis is probably resistant of variable salinity.  But a decrease from full to reduced salinity for a year (the benchmark) e.g. from 32-35 units to 22-25 units for a year is probably more extreme.  Therefore, Funiculina quadrangularis and Pennatula phosphorea probably have a resistance of None but the resistance of Virgularia mirabilis is probably Low.  Resilience is likely to be at least Low and the resultant sensitivity is ‘High’ for all three species

None
Medium
Low
Medium
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Low
Medium
Medium
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High
Medium
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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

Sea pen biotopes (e.g. SS.SMu.CFiMu.SpnMeg) occur in low energy environments with weak (<0.5 m/sec) to very weak tidal streams (Connor et al., 2004), which are a prerequisite for the fine mud sediments in which the sea pens occur (Hughes, 1998a).  Of the three sea pens, Virgularia mirabilis occurs in coarser sandier muds with small stones and shell fragments e.g. SS.SMu.CSaMu.VirOphPmax (Hughes, 1998a; Greathead et al. 2007), and is probably more tolerant of current or wave induced flow than Funiculina quadrangularis and Pennatula phosphorea but the entire group is probably intolerant of increased flow.  For example, Hiscock (1983) examined the effects of water flow on Virgularia mirabilis.  As water flow rates increase, Virgularia mirabilis first responds by swinging polyps around the axial rod to face away from the current (at 0.12 m/s), then polyps face downstream.  With further increase in flow, the stalk bends over and the pinnae are pushed together to an increasing amount with increasing velocity of flow (at 0.33 m/s).  Finally, tentacles retract and at water speeds greater than 0.5 m/s (i.e. 1 knot) the stalk retracts into the mud (Hiscock, 1983). Best (1988) noted similar behaviour in the sea pen Ptilosarcus gurneyi and noted that filter efficiency, and hence feeding, increased with increased flow but then decreased once flow began to deform the shape of the sea pen. If water speeds remain at this level or above the sea-pen will be unable to extend above the sediment, unable to feed and could die.  Pennatula phosphorea has a larger surface area due to its width, while Funiculina quadrangularis is larger and less flexible, suggesting both species may be less tolerant of increased flow than Virgularia mirabilis

Greathead et al. (2015) suggested that the large surface area of Funiculina quadrangularis (compared to the other two sea pens) was a hindrance in strong currents but a potential competitive advantage in deeper quiescent waters as the amount of organic matter in the water column decreases with depth. In addition, long-term increases in water flow are likely to modify the sediment, removing the fine sediments the sea pens require in favour of sandier, coarser sediments.  A change in sediment type could also affect the burrowing megafauna (see a change in sediment type below).  

Sensitivity assessment.  The biotope occurs in weak to negligible flow, so that a decrease in flow is not relevant.  An increase in flow is probably directly detrimental to sea pens and may alter the sediment type in the long-term.  An increase in water flow of 0.1-0.2 m/s for a year is may result in an increase in overall flow outside the preferred range for the sea pens, depending on location.  Therefore, an increase in water flow may result in the removal or death of a proportion of the population of Virgularia mirabilis, and as the other sea pens are probably less tolerant of change, a resistance of 'Low' is suggested, with a resilience of 'Low', resulting in a sensitivity of 'High'

Low
High
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Low
Medium
Medium
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High
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Medium
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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

Changes in emergence are Not relevant to the biotope, which is restricted to circalittoral below 10 metres. The pressure benchmark is relevant only to littoral and shallow sublittoral fringe biotopes.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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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

Sea pen biotopes (e.g. SS.SMu.CFiMu.SpnMeg) occur in low energy environments, extremely sheltered to sheltered from wave exposure (Connor et al., 2004), a prerequisite for the fine mud sediments in which the sea pens occur (Hughes, 1998a).  While Virgularia mirabilis occurs in coastal areas and inner sea lochs, these areas are still sheltered from wave action, and in sandier muds (e.g. the biotope SS.SMu.CSaMu.VirOphPmax) wave exposure was not recorded to be more than ‘sheltered’.  Therefore, it is likely that all of the sea pens, characteristic of this biotope, are intolerant of an increase in wave action.  Virgularia mirabilis is probably the most tolerant of the three species while Funiculina quadrangularis is probably the most intolerant as wave exposure is attenuated by depth and Funiculina quadrangularis prefers deeper waters than the other sea pens.

A decrease in wave exposure is unlikely in the sheltered habitats they inhabit.  However, a decrease in wave exposure elsewhere may be beneficial by providing additional habitat for colonization and hence an increase in their distribution.

Sensitivity assessment.  An increase in wave exposure is likely to affect all three species adversely, limiting or removing the shallower proportion of the population, and potentially modifying sediment and therefore habitat preferences in the longer-term.  In some cases, areas suitable for Pennatula phosphorea and Funiculina quadrangularis may become more suitable for Virgularia mirabilis.  However, a 3-5% increase in significant wave height (the benchmark) is unlikely to be significant. The benchmark level of change may be no more than expected during winter storms even in the sheltered waters favoured by this biotope. Alternatively, such a small change in wave action may not penetrate to the depths at which this biotope occurs.  Therefore, resistance is recorded as 'High' at the benchmark level. Hence, resilience is 'High' and the biotope is assessed as 'Not sensitive' at the benchmark level.

High
High
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
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Chemical Pressures

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ResistanceResilienceSensitivity
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 metals and organometal' contaminants on Anthozoa are summarized below. The full 'Anthozoa evidence review' should be consulted for details of the studies examined and their results. A sensitivity assessment is provided for each type or source of 'Transitional metals and organometal' contaminant examined, together with an overall pressure assessment. 

Transitional metals. The Actinaria were reported to experience ‘Severe’ or ‘Significant’ mortality due to transitional metal exposure but to be of ’Medium’ sensitivity due to their reasonable recovery rates. Nematostella vectensis is an exception due to its inability to disperse over long distances or between sites without human intervention (see above). Therefore, while resistance is assessed as ‘Low’, resilience is probably ‘Medium’ and sensitivity is assessed as ‘Medium’, albeit with ‘Low’ confidence.

The Scleractinia (true corals) also show a varied response to transitional metal exposure. However, resistance is probably ‘Low’ or ‘Very low’ based on the ‘worst-case’ mortality reported, the metals, and their dose. Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Very low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ albeit with ‘Low’ confidence due to the variation in response. The Octocorallia and Zoantharia were each represented by a single study, in which only sublethal effects were observed so, no sensitivity assessment for these groups was suggested.

No direct evidence of the effects of transitional metals on sea pens was found. Reichelt-Brushett & Michalek-Wagner (2005) reported fertilization success in the Octocoral Lobophytum compactum was more resistant to copper exposure than other species studies but also reported a significant decrease in fertilization success. A decrease in fertilization success due to copper might impair recruitment in sea pens. Overall, the effects of transitional metal exposure were varied but metals have the potential to cause ‘severe’ or ‘Significant’ mortalities in Anthozoa as a group. Therefore, the worst-case resistance of Anthozoa and, hence, sea pens to transitional metal exposure is assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the lack of direct evidence and the variation in response. 

In Norwegian fjords, Rygg (1985) found a relationship between species diversity in benthic fauna communities and sediment concentrations of the heavy metals Cu, Pb and Zn. Cu, in particular, showed a strong negative correlation and the author suggested a cause-effect relationship. Those species not present at sites where Cu concentrations were greater than ten times higher than the background level, such as Calocaris macandreae, Amphiura filiformis and several bivalves including Nucula sulcata and Thyasira equalis, were assessed as non-tolerant species. The tolerant species were all polychaete worms. Therefore, increased heavy metal contamination in sediments may change the faunal composition of the community and decrease overall species diversity. Some burrowing crustaceans, brittlestars and bivalves may disappear from the biotope and lead to increased dominance of polychaetes. 

Nanoparticulate metals. The effects of nanoparticulate copper oxide exposure on Aiptasia spp. were examined by Henderson & Salazar (1996) and Siddiqui et al. (2015). Only sublethal effects were reported. Therefore, the sensitivity of Actinaria is assessed as ‘Not sensitive’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the limited number of studies found. The evidence is probably too limited to assess the sensitivity of sea pens species or other groups of Anthozoa.

Organometals. The Anthozoa (Actinaria and Scleractinia) were reported to experience ‘Severe’ or ‘Significant’ mortality from organometals (organozinc, organotin, and organocopper) exposure in 87% of the results reviewed. Therefore, the resistance of Anthozoa as a group to organometal exposure is assessed as ‘None.’ The resilience of Actinaria is probably ‘Medium’, so sensitivity is assessed as ‘Medium. However, the resilience of Scleractinia is probably ‘very low’ so sensitivity is assessed as ‘High.’  No direct evidence of the effects of organometals on sea pens was found. Resistance is assessed as ‘Low’, based on the assumption that Anthozoa share similar hormonal and biochemical pathways. Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the lack of direct evidence.

Overall sensitivity assessment. No direct evidence of the effects of 'transitional metals and organometals' on sea pens was found.  However, the evidence from Anthozoa as a group suggests that the worst-case resistance of sea pen species, and hence the biotope, to transitional metals and organometals is ‘Low’, based on the assumption that Anthozoa share similar hormonal and biochemical pathways. Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the lack of direct evidence. The evidence of the effects of nanoparticulate metals was too limited to inform a sensitivity assessment. 

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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 'Hydrocarbons and PAH' contaminants on Anthozoa are summarized below. The full 'Anthozoa evidence review' 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 effects of an oil spill on Anthozoa were only reported in two papers. It was unclear if the effects of the Torrey Canyon spill on Anthozoa (Smith, 1968) were due to the oil and dispersant or oil alone. Etnoyer et al. (2016) examined the health and condition of species of large gorgonian octocorals before and after a Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. Although the octocoral reefs occurred at depth below the resultant oil slick, they suggested that the octocorals could come into contact with contaminants in the form of particulates or contaminated phytoplankton in the water column. Etnoyer et al. (2016) reported a significant increase in injury to a number of species of octocoral after the spill (38-50% of large gorgonians) but no direct mortality at the end of their study in 2014, four years after the spill. They suggested that the chance of recovery from injury was unlikely, which implies that mortality may have occurred in the longer term. Therefore, although their paper reported only sublethal effects (resistance is ‘High’) it may be prudent to assess the resistance of Octocorals to oil spills as at least ‘Medium’ resistance, albeit with ‘Low’ confidence. Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Medium and sensitivity as ‘Medium’.

No direct evidence of the effects of oil spills on sea pens was found. However, the evidence of the effects of the DWH spill on Octocorals suggests that sea pens, even at depth could be affected by an oil spill. The magnitude of the effect is likely to depend on the scale and duration of the spill, the depth of the sea pen biotope relative to the resultant slick, and the degree of vertical mixing in the water column. Nevertheless, it may be prudent to assess the resistance of sea pens to oil spills as at least ‘Medium’, albeit with ‘Low’ confidence. Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘Medium’. The shallowest examples of the sea pen (SpnMeg) biotopes are likely to be more vulnerable to oil spills than deeper examples.

The best documented oil spill for protected habitats with soft mud/sand substrata is the West Falmouth, Florida spill of 1969. Virtually the entire benthic fauna was eradicated immediately after the spill and populations of the opportunistic polychaete Capitella capitata increased to abundances of over 200,000/m² (Sanders, 1978). Persistent toxicity of Amoco Cadiz oil in sediment prevented the start of the recovery period (Clark, 1997). Callinanassa subterranea appears to be highly intolerant of sediment contaminated by oil-based drilling muds (Daan et al., 1992).

Petroleum hydrocarbons – oils and dispersed oils.  Frometa et al. (2017) reported ‘no’ mortality in Swiftia exserta exposed to DWH WAF but ‘Severe’ mortality after exposure to dispersant and oil mixtures (CEWAF). They concluded that combinations of dispersants and oils were more toxic to octocorals than oils alone. Smith (1968) reported that Actinia equina and Urticina (as Tealia) felina were the most common and the most resistant animals on the shore after the oil spill and clean up, while some specimens of Cereus pedunculatus, Sagartia elegans and Anemonia sulcata were found dead and few survived. However, in the true coral examples mortality ranged from ‘Severe’ to ‘None’ depending on the study.

Overall, in most of the studies reviewed, the resistance of true corals (Scleractinia) and Octocorals to petroleum hydrocarbons, oils, and dispersed oils would be assessed as ‘Low’ or ‘None’ and, due to their ‘Low’ resilience, sensitivity would be assessed as ‘High’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the limited number of studies examined. However, the resistance of Actinaria (sea anemones) to petroleum hydrocarbons, oils, and dispersed oils is dependent on species.  No direct evidence of the effects of petroleum hydrocarbons, oils, and dispersed oils on sea pens was found. However, the evidence of the effects on Octocorals suggests that sea pens may be sensitive. Therefore, the resistance of sea pens to petroleum hydrocarbons, oils, and dispersed oils is assessed as ‘Low,’ resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the lack of direct evidence.

Dispersants. All but one of the species examined in the articles reviewed (Acropora millepora) were reported to experience either ‘Severe’ or ‘Significant’ mortality due to exposure to dispersants. Therefore, the resistance of Anthozoa, as a group, to dispersants is assessed as ‘None’ or ‘Low’ depending on the species. Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ or ‘Very low’ in the Octocorals and true corals but ‘Medium’ in the Actinaria. Therefore, sensitivity to dispersants is assessed as ‘High’ in Octocorals and true corals but ‘Medium’ in the Actinaria, but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the limited number of studies examined. No direct evidence of the effects of dispersants on sea pens was found. However, the evidence of the effects on Octocorals suggests that sea pens may be sensitive. Therefore, the resistance of sea pens to dispersants is assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Low’ confidence due to the lack of direct evidence.

Others. One study (Mercurio et al., 2004) examined the effects of vegetable oils on Acropora microphthalma and one other (Farina et al., 2008) examined the effect of the PAH B[a]P on Porites astreoides. ‘Severe’ or ‘Significant’ mortality was reported, respectively. Therefore, the resistance of true corals to vegetable oil or PAH exposure may be ‘Low’ or ‘None’ and sensitivity may be ‘High’. This assessment may represent the sensitivity of other Anthozoa, including sea pens, but with only ‘Low’ confidence due to the limited number of studies found.

Overall sensitivity assessment. No direct evidence of the effects of 'hydrocarbons or PAHs' on sea pens was found in the review of the effect of contaminants on Anthozoa. Oil from spills would have to be dispersed deep into the water column to affect the biotope and since the biotope occurs in very sheltered conditions this is unlikely to occur. However, Etnoyer et al. (2016) reported that octocorals could be contaminated by oil spills even at depth, in the form of particulates or contaminated phytoplankton in the water column. Should the sediment become contaminated with oil there is likely to be the loss of many species. In addition, the evidence suggested that Anthozoa and, hence, possibly sea pens were sensitive to petroleum hydrocarbons, oils, dispersed oils and dispersants.  Therefore, the worst-case resistance of sea pens and their associated biotope to 'Hydrocarbons and PAHs' is assessed as 'Low' but with 'Low' confidence due to the lack of direct evidence. Hence, resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High. 

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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 compound' contaminants on Anthozoa are summarized below. The full 'Anthozoa evidence review' should be consulted for details of the studies examined and their results. A sensitivity assessment is provided for each type or source of 'Synthetic compound' contaminant examined, together with an overall pressure assessment. 

Pesticides/biocides. ‘Pesticides/biocides’ exposure was reported to result in mortality (‘Severe’, ‘Significant’ or ‘Some’ mortality) in only 23% of the worst-case results collated. The majority (77%) of studies reported ‘no’ mortality or sublethal effects. In the case of Actinaria, Aiptasia spp. was reported to experience significant mortality after exposure to 19 mg/l Diuron (Bao et al., 2011) but only sublethal effects to paraformaldehyde or the bactericide Suflo-B33 (Tagatz et al., 1979), while Anthopleura spp. was reported to experience only sublethal effects after exposure to Chlordane (Pridmore et al., 1992). Similarly, the Scleractinia were reported to experience only sublethal effects from pesticide/biocide exposure, except in a few species/pesticide combinations.

Overall, the evidence suggests that pesticides/biocides may be toxic to some species of Anthozoa depending on the dose and life stage and that sensitivity should be assessed on a species-specific and chemical-specific basis. Therefore, the ‘worst-case’ resistance of Actinaria as a group to pesticide/biocide exposure is potentially ‘Low’ so resilience is probably ‘Medium’, and sensitivity is assessed as ‘Medium. However, the ‘worst-case’ resistance of Scleractinia as a group to pesticide/biocide exposure is potentially ‘None’, and as the resilience of Scleractinia is probably ‘Very low’, sensitivity is assessed as ‘High’. But the confidence in the assessment is ‘Very low’.  

No direct evidence of the effects of pesticides/biocides on sea pens was found. In addition, the reported effects of pesticides on the Anthozoa are species and chemical-specific. It is precautionary to assume that sea pens may be affected adversely by some pesticides, in the same way as some Anthozoa. Therefore, the resistance of sea pens to pesticides/biocides is assessed as ‘Low’ as a precaution, so resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Low’ confidence. Further study is required.

Personal Care Products (PCPs). The effects of UV filters (benzophenone-3 and benzophenone-2) on the planulae of true corals were examined by Downs et al. (2014, 2016). They reported significant mortality of planulae in all the species studied. Loss of planulae and hence recruitment may not be detrimental in the short term because true corals are long-lived. However, if unchecked it may result in population decline in the long term depending on the species. Therefore, resistance is assessed as ‘Low’, resilience as ‘Very low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’.

No direct evidence of the effects of personal care products on sea pens was found. It is precautionary to assume that sea pens may be affected adversely by some personal care products. Therefore, the resistance of sea pens to personal care products is assessed as ‘Low’ as a precaution, so resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Low’ confidence. Further study is required.

Others. The effects of ‘Pharmaceuticals’, ‘Phthalates’, ‘PFAS/PFAS’ and other synthetics were examined by a limited number of studies in only four species. The evidence was not adequate to make an overall assessment of sensitivity or to inform an assessment of the effects on sea pen species. 

Overall sensitivity assessment. Arthropods are very intolerant of the insecticide carbaryl (1-naphthol n-methyl carbamate; sold under the trade name Sevin®), which has been used to control burrowing shrimp in oyster farms (Feldman et al., 2000). Ivermectin, an anti-louse treatment that was used in the salmon fish farming industry, has been shown to be highly toxic to sediment-dwelling polychaetes (Hughes, 1998b). Different species will be affected by different chemicals but a general trend in areas of increasing pollution is a reduction in species diversity with habitats becoming dominated by pollution-tolerant polychaete worms. The evidence for Anthozoa varies between species and the chemical contaminant studied. No direct evidence of the effects of 'Synthetic compounds' on sea pens was found.  It is precautionary to assume that sea pens may be affected adversely by some pesticides, or PCPs in the same way as some Anthozoa. Therefore, the resistance of sea pens to 'Synthetic compounds' is assessed as ‘Low’ as a precaution, so resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Low’ confidence

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Radionuclide contamination [Show more]

Radionuclide contamination

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

Evidence

In an investigation of bioturbation in the northeastern Irish Sea, Hughes & Atkinson (1997) surveyed several sites close to the Sellafield (now Windscale) nuclear reprocessing plant. At a station immediately offshore from the Sellafield outfall pipeline a community similar to the CMU.SpMeg biotope was present. Burrow openings and shafts indicated the presence of the burrowing crustaceans Callianassa subterranea, Goneplax rhomboides and Upogobia deltaura. Epifauna were abundant, particularly Ophiura ophiura and Asterias rubens. The sea pen Virgularia mirabilis occurred at high density. Dragonets and small gobies were also common. Other species in the biotope such as Nephrops norvegicus and the echiuran worm Maxmuelleria lankesteri were also present at sites close to the outfall pipeline. Thus, the biotope occurs in bottom sediments that contain particles of long half-life radionuclides derived from the liquid effluent released from the reprocessing plant at Sellafield (now Windscale). 'No obvious effects' of the radionuclide effluent were observed (Hughes & Atkinson, 1997; Hughes, 1998a) but no information on the level of radiation was provided. Therefore, the biotope is may be resistant of such effluent but there is insufficient evidence to assess this pressure against the benchmark.

No evidence (NEv)
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Not relevant (NR)
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No evidence (NEv)
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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 substance' contaminants on Anthozoa are summarized below. The full 'Anthozoa evidence review' should be consulted for details of the studies examined and their results. A sensitivity assessment is provided for each type or source of 'Other substance' contaminant examined, together with an overall pressure assessment. 

Exposure to cyanide was reported to result in ‘Severe’ mortality in both of the true corals examined. Therefore, it is assumed that cyanide is probably toxic to all Anthozoa, depending on concentration. Hence, resistance is assessed as ‘None’. Sensitivity assessment is dependent on resilience. Therefore, sensitivity is assessed as ‘Medium’ in Actinaria, but ‘High’ in Octocorallia and Scleractinia. The sensitivity of cyanide to sea pens is probably also ‘High’.

The effects of wastewater or production formation water ‘effluent’ exposure (Negri & Heyward, 2000; Howe et al., 2015) are shown in the ‘Anthozoa evidence summary’. However, in both cases, the active ingredients of the effluents were not specified. Hence, no assessment was attempted.

Carrerio-Silva et al. (2022) examined the effects of elevated suspended polymetallic sulphide (PMS) particles and suspended quartz particles on the cold water octocoral Dentomuricea meteor. These particulates may be generated during deep-sea mining activities for PMS. They reported ‘Severe’ mortality of the octocoral after exposure to PMS, together with an increase in the concentration of metals associated with the particulates in the water column and the tissue of the octocoral. Therefore, the resistance of Octocorallia to suspended polymetallic sulphide (PMS) particles is assessed as ‘None’, resilience as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’. No direct evidence of the effects of suspended polymetallic sulphide (PMS) particles on sea pens was found. It is precautionary to assume that sea pens may be affected adversely. Therefore, the resistance of sea pens to suspended polymetallic sulphide (PMS) particles is assessed as ‘Low’ as a precaution, so resilience is assessed as ‘Low’ and sensitivity as ‘High’ but with ‘Low’ confidence. Further study is required.

Overall sensitivity assessment. The effects of 'Other substances' as a pressure will vary depending on the chemical contaminant and the species studied. The evidence above suggests that sea pens are likely to be sensitive to cyanide, depending on the concentration and duration of exposure. The evidence from the study of an Octocoral also suggests that sea pens are likely to be sensitive to exposure to suspended polymetallic sulphide (PMS) particles due to both physical damage and the chemical toxicity of associated metals. Therefore, the worst-case resistance of sea pens to 'other substances' is assessed as 'Low'. Hence, resilience is assessed as 'Low' and sensitivity as 'High'.  The confidence in the assessment is 'low' due to the limited number of studies reviewed and the lack of direct evidence on the effects of the contaminants on sea pen species. 

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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

Virgularia mirabilis is often found in sea lochs so may be able to tolerate some reduction in oxygenation. However, Jones et al. (2000) reported that sea pen communities were absent from areas which are deoxygenated and characterized by a distinctive bacterial community and Hoare & Wilson (1977) reported that Virgularia mirabilis was absent from sewage related anoxic areas of Holyhead harbour.

Large active animals with high respiratory demands will be most affected by oxygen depletion. In moderately hypoxic conditions (1 mg/l) Nephrops norvegicus compensates by increasing production of haemocyanin (Baden et al., 1990). In the laboratory, this compensation lasted one week so at the level of the benchmark, the species will not be killed. However, at levels of about 0.6 mg/l the species died within 4 days. Catches of Nephrops norvegicus have been observed to be high when oxygenation in the water is low, probably because animals are forced out their burrows (Hughes, 1998a). Thalassinidean mud-shrimps are very resistant to oxygen depletion and enriched sulphide levels and many species can withstand total anoxia for several days (Hughes, 1998a).

Sensitivity assessment. The evidence suggests that severe hypoxic or anoxic conditions are likely to be detrimental to sea pen communities.  However, sea pens may be resistant of short-term hypoxia due to their presence at depth in sheltered sea lochs.  Nevertheless, Cole et al. (1999) suggested that most species would be affected at an oxygen concentration below 2 mg/l. Therefore, a precautionary resistance of 'Medium' is suggested to represent to loss of a small proportion of the population but at 'Low' confidence as the evidence is limited to a single observation, on only one of the British sea pen species.  Resilience is probably 'Low' so that sensitivity is assessed as 'Medium' but also with Low confidence.

Medium
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Low
Medium
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Medium
Low
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Nutrient enrichment [Show more]

Nutrient enrichment

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

Evidence

Hoare & Wilson (1977) noted that Virgularia mirabilis was absent from part of the Holyhead Harbour heavily affected by sewage pollution.  However, the species was abundant near the head of Loch Harport, Skye, close to a distillery outfall discharging water enriched in malt and yeast residues and other soluble organic compounds (Nickell & Anderson, 1977; cited in Hughes, 1998a), where the organic content of the sediment was up to 5%.  Virgularia mirabilis was also present in Loch Sween in Scotland in sites where organic content was as high as 4.5% (Atkinson, 1989).  Wilding (2011) noted that the abundance of Pennatula phosphorea was inversely correlated with predicted Infaunal Trophic Index (a predicted estimate of organic waste build-up) around salmon farms in Scotland, but that the effect only extended for 50 m from the cages. No information on the potential effect of nutrient enrichment on Funiculina quadrangularis was found.

Burrowing megafauna flourish in areas where the sediments are naturally high in organic matter, such as sheltered sea lochs (Hughes, 1998a). An increasing gradient of organic enrichment (e.g. in the vicinity of point sources of organic-rich effluent or sewage sludge dump sites) results in a decline in the suspension feeding fauna and an increase in the number of deposit feeders, in particular, polychaete worms (Pearson & Rosenberg, 1978). The effects of organic enrichment on burrowing megafauna and other infauna depended on the degree of enrichment and any resultant hypoxia, which depend on the sediment type and local hydrology.

Sensitivity assessment. Sublittoral muds may be expected to be high in organic matter and nutrients, and the presence of Virgularia mirabilis in areas of up to 4.5% organic carbon (Atkinson, 1989) and distillery effluent suggest a resistance to nutrient enrichment.  Similarly, the characteristic burrowing megafauna are probably resistant of all but gross enrichment.  Nevertheless, this biotope is recorded as Not sensitive at the pressure benchmark that assumes compliance with good status as defined by the WFD.

Not relevant (NR)
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Not relevant (NR)
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Not sensitive
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Organic enrichment [Show more]

Organic enrichment

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

Evidence

Hoare & Wilson (1977) noted that Virgularia mirabilis was absent from part of the Holyhead Harbour heavily affected by sewage pollution.  However, the species was abundant near the head of Loch Harport, Skye, close to a distillery outfall discharging water enriched in malt and yeast residues and other soluble organic compounds (Nickell & Anderson, 1977; cited in Hughes, 1998a), where the organic content of the sediment was up to 5%.  Virgularia mirabilis was also present in Loch Sween in Scotland in sites where organic content was as high as 4.5% (Atkinson, 1989).  Wilding (2011) noted that the abundance of Pennatula phosphorea was inversely correlated with predicted Infaunal Trophic Index (a predicted estimate of organic waste build-up) around salmon farms in Scotland, but that the effect only extended for 50 m from the cages.

Burrowing megafauna flourish is areas where the sediments are naturally high in organic matter, such as sheltered sea lochs (Hughes, 1998a). An increasing gradient of organic enrichment (e.g. in the vicinity of point sources of organic-rich effluent or sewage sludge dump sites) results in a decline in the suspension feeding fauna and an increase in the number of deposit feeders, in particular, polychaete worms (Pearson & Rosenberg, 1978). The effects of organic enrichment on burrowing megafauna and other infauna depended on the degree of enrichment and any resultant hypoxia, which depend on the sediment type and local hydrology.

For example, is a survey of Garoch Head sludge dumping grounds, Firth of Clyde, the burrowing megafauna (Nephrops norvegicus, Callianassa subterranean, Calocaris macandreae, Lumpenus lampraetiformis and Cepola rubsecens) were abundant where organic content was <4% but absent where the organic content exceeded 6% (Smith, 1988, cited in Hughes, 1998a). Calocaris macandreae did not extend as far into the gradient as Nephrops norvegicus or Lumpenus lampraetiformis (Smith, 1988, cited in Hughes, 1998a). In Caol Scotnish, Loch Sween, bacterial mats of Beggiatoa were reported in the immediate vicinity of salmon cages in 1987. The burrowing megafauna (Maxmuelleria lankesteri, Callianassa subterranea and Jaxea nocturna) were abundant in unimpacted areas. But by 1988, the bacterial mats covered most of the seabed in the basin, the sediment was close to anoxic, and the burrows of megafauna were restricted to small areas free of Beggiatoa. After the removal of salmon cages in 1989, some recovery was apparent by 1990 with more burrows apparent, although the size of the individuals of Maxmuelleria lankesteri, Callianassa subterranean suggested that they had survived the loch basin during the peak of enrichment (Hughes, 1998a).

Sensitivity assessment. Sublittoral muds may be expected to be high in organic nutrients, and the presence of Virgularia mirabilis in areas of up to 4.5% organic carbon (Atkinson, 1989) suggest a resistance to organic enrichment at the benchmark level.  Similarly, the characteristic burrowing megafauna are probably resistant of all but gross enrichment.  Therefore, a precautionary resistance of 'Medium' is suggested, and as resilience is probably 'Low', a sensitivity of 'Medium is recorded.  However, Pennatula phosphorea, and by inference Funiculina quadrangularis, may be more sensitive.  

Medium
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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 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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Very Low
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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

If sedimentary substrata were replaced with rock substrata the biotope would be lost, as it would no longer be a sedimentary habitat and would no longer support sea pens and burrowing megafauna.

Sensitivity assessment. Resistance to the pressure is considered ’None‘, and resilience ’Very low‘ or ‘None’ (as the pressure represents a permanent change) and the sensitivity of this biotope is assessed as ’High’.

None
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Very Low
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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

Virgularia mirabilis occurs in a number of biotopes, on substrata ranging from mud, sandy mud, and gravelly mud, with or with shell fragments or stones (Connor et al., 2004).  Greathead et al. (2007) suggested that the muscular peduncle of Virgularia mirabilis allowed it to occupy coarser muds than the other sea pens, and explained its presence in the Moray Firth and Firth of Forth, and its wider distribution in Scotland.  Greathead et al. (2007) noted that Pennatula phosphorea was absent in the North Minch while Funiculina quadrangularis and Virgularia mirabilis were present, but that Pennatula phosphorea was abundant in soft, adhesive mud with high silt-clay content in Loch Broom.  This may suggest a preference for fine muds.  The MNCR only recorded Pennatula phosphorea from biotopes in ‘mud’.  Greathead et al. (2007) also noted that Funiculina quadrangularis had the most restricted distribution, probably due to a preference of depth and soft deep muds of sheltered loch basins, where it was abundant.  Again, the MNCR only recorded Funiculina quadrangularis from biotopes in ‘mud’.  However, it was also recorded from areas of muddy sand in the South and North Minches and in the Fladen Grounds but in deep water. In addition, a 'mud' substratum was the most important factor in a habitat suitability index model for sea pens developed by Greathead et al. (2015). In their model, habitat suitability for Funiculina quadrangularis increased with mud content up to a maximum at 90-100% mud. Pennatula phosphorea and Virgularia mirabilis also had their maximum habitat suitability at 100% mud.  All three species had zero habitat suitability at 0% mud. However, gravel content was also important. Virgularia mirabilis was the most tolerant of gravel content and was still recorded at 50% gravel while the were no records of Pennatula phosphorea and Funiculina quadrangularis above 40% and 30% gravel respectively (Greathead et al., 2015).  

Callianassa subterranea creates a complex lattice of galleries at 30-40 cm below the surface in the fine muds but burrows less deeply (9-23 cm) in coarse sediments (Rowden & Jones, 1995; Hughes, 1998a).  Calocaris macandreae creates burrows with as total depth of 21 cm in muddy sediments with a high silt content but is not found in sandy sediments (Buchanan, 1963; Hughes, 1998a). Nephrops norvegicus burrows to 20-30 cm and is found in soft mud sediments.  The large echiuran Maxmuelleria lankesteri burrows up to 80 cm into the sediment and is found in fine muds and muddy sands in deep water (10-80 m) (Nickell et al., 1995; Hughes, 1998a).

A change in sediment type by one Folk class (see benchmark) is likely to adversely affect the sea pens.  A change from ‘mud and sandy mud’ to ‘sand and muddy sand’ or ‘mixed’ would probably exclude Pennatula phosphorea and Funiculina quadrangularis (except where Funiculina quadrangularis occurs in deep basins) but not adversely affect Virgularia mirabilis, based on their reported distribution.  It is also likely to result in a reduction in the abundance of most of the characteristic burrowing megafauna.  Conversely, a change of sediment from coarse or sandy sediments to ‘mud and sandy mud’ will not affect Virgularia mirabilis but may allow the other sea pens to colonise.  In all cases, a change in the sediment type is likely to change the associated community and result in loss of the sea pen population. 

Sensitivity assessment.  Sea pens have a narrow range of sediment type preferences, so their resistance to this pressure is 'None' for the Funiculina quadrangularis and Pennatula phosphorea but 'Low' for Virgularia mirabilis and, as resilience is 'Very low' (the pressure is a permanent change), sensitivity is, therefore, 'High'. 

None
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Very Low
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High
Medium
Low
Medium
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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

Benthic trawls (e.g. rock hopper ground gear, otter trawls) will remove and capture sea pens (Tuck et al., 1998; Kenchington et al., 2011), albeit with limited efficiency.  Nevertheless, dredging and suction dredging penetrates to greater depth and are likely to remove sea pens.  Although Virgularia mirabilis and Pennatula phosphorea can withdraw into the sediment, they will not be able to avoid activities that penetrate into the sediment.  Assuming their burrows are only deep enough to hold the entire animal (see Greathead et al., 2007 for sizes), then Virgularia mirabilis burrows are up to 40 cm deep while Pennatula phosphorea burrows are only up to 25 cm. Funiculina quadrangularis can grow up to 150 cm in height above the sediment surface but cannot withdraw into a burrow. 

Sensitivity assessment.  Extraction of sediment to 30 cm (the benchmark) could remove most of the resident sea pens present.  Hence, their resistance is probably 'None', and their resilience is at least 'Low', resulting in a sensitivity of 'High'

None
Medium
Low
Medium
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Low
Medium
Low
Medium
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High
Medium
Low
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

In experimental studies (Kinnear et al. 1996; Eno et al. 2001), sea pens were found to be largely resilient to smothering, dragging or uprooting by creels or pots.  In both Pennatula phosphorea and Funiculina quadrangularis, the pressure wave caused by approaching pots/creels bent the sea pen away, so that they were laid flat before contact.  Kinnear et al. (1996) noted that Pennatula phosphorea and Funiculina quadrangularis were occasionally removed from the substratum by creels/pots.  Virgularia mirabilis withdrew very quickly into the sediment when exposed to pots or creels, and so it was difficult to determine their response.  However, all sea pens recovered from being dragged over by pots or creels within 24-72 h, with the exception of one individual Funiculina quadrangularis.  Both Pennatula phosphorea and Funiculina quadrangularis were able to reinsert themselves into the sediment if removed as long as the peduncle remained in contact with the sediment surface, except in one specimen in which the peduncle was damaged.  Pennatula phosphorea and Funiculina quadrangularis recovered with 72-96 hours after experimental smothering for 24 hours by pot or creel and after 96-144 hours of smothering for 48 hours (Kinnear et al. 1996; Eno et al. 2001).

However, a later study of the effects of experimental trawling damage in the sea whip Halipteris willemoesi suggests that recovery in Funinculina quadrangularis may have been over-estimated. Halipteris willemoesi is a functionally similar species to Funiculina quadrangularis, as it is tall, thin, and cannot withdraw into the sediment.  Malecha & Stone (2009) simulated trawl damage in field populations in Alaskan waters, by abrading the sea whip with rubber disks (similar to rubber tire punch-outs used on the footrope of many trawls), dislodging them from the sediment and breaking the axial rod manually. All the specimens abraded repaired tissue damage and survived the experimental period. However, the authors noted that the experimental abrasion probably underestimated the effect of trawls as it did not include the mechanical force of the mobile gear and that even the smallest amount of tissue damage probably decreased the sea whip's ability to reproduce. Fifty percent of the dislodged sea whips were able to rebury and become erect within 18 days. Only 42% of the fractured sea whips were erect 18 days after treatment. However, only one specimen was erect after the 372 days of the experiment. There was no evidence to suggest that specimens could repair their damaged axial rods. After 372 days, 92% of the dislodged and 100% of the fractured specimens had substantial tissue loss and perished. Tissue loss was exaggerated by predation from nudibranchs, which appeared to be attracted to the experimental area, possibly due to the tissue damage suffered by the sea whips (Malecha & Stone, 2009).

Funiculina quadrangularis cannot withdraw into the sediment but both Virgularia mirabilis and Pennatula phosphorea can withdraw into tubes in the sediment.  In Virgularia mirabilis withdrawal from a physical stimulus is rapid (ca 30 seconds) (Hoare & Wilson, 1977; Ambroso et al., 2013).  Birkland (1974) maintained that the only way to capture all of the sea pens in an area (quadrat) was to remove them slowly by hand until no more emerged.  But several studies note that their ability to withdraw into the sediment in response to bottom towed or dropped gear (e.g. creels, pots, camera/video mounted towed sleds, experimental grab, trawl, or dredge) means that sea pen  abundance can be difficult to estimate (Birkeland, 1974; Eno et al., 2001; Greathead et al., 2007; Greathead et al., 2011).  The ability to withdraw also suggests that sea pens can avoid approaching demersal trawls and fishing gear.  This was suggested as the explanation for the similarity in the densities of Virgularia mirabilis in trawled and untrawled sites in Loch Fyne, and the lack of change in sea pen density observed after experimental trawling (using modified rock hopper ground gear) over an 18 month period in Loch Gareloch (Howson & Davies, 1991; Hughes, 1998a; Tuck et al., 1998).  Kenchington et al. (2011) estimated the gear efficiency of otter trawls for sea pens (Anthoptilum and Pennatula) to be in the range of 3.7 – 8.2%, based on estimates of sea pen biomass from (non-destructive) towed camera surveys.  However, species obtained by dredges were invariably damaged (Hoare & Wilson, 1977). 

Hoare & Wilson (1977) noted that Virgularia was absent for areas of Holyhead Harbour disturbed by dragging or boat mooring, although no causal evidence was given (Hughes, 1998a).  Sea pens are potentially vulnerable to long lining.  Munoz et al. (2011) noted that small numbers of Pennatulids (inc. Pennatula sp.) were retrieved from experimental long-lining around the Hatton Bank in the North East Atlantic, presumably either attached to hooks or wrapped in line as it passed across the sediment.  Hixon & Tissot (2007) noted that sea pens (Stylatula sp.) were four times more abundant in untrawled areas relative to trawled areas in the Coquille Bank, Oregon, although no causal relationship was shown.  Greathead et al. (2011) noted that Funiculina quadrangularis was largely absent from Fladen fishing grounds in the northern North Sea, possibly due to its patchy distribution or fishing activities. Murillo et al. (2016) noted that species richness of the deep mud (>500m) communities (that included sea pens Funiculina quadrangularis and Anthoptilum grandiflorum) off the Tail of the Grand Bank and Flemish Cap, in the north-west Atlantic was negatively correlated with fishing intensity. In the southern Barents Sea, Buhl-Mortensen et al. (2016) reported that 70 of the 97 most common taxa (including Funiculina quadrangularis) from the shelf (50-400 m) and slope (400-2000 m) were negatively correlated with fishing intensity.

Trawl caught Nephrops females were reported to have fewer eggs on average than creel caught females from the same area, during an experimental study, and that it was likely that the eggs may be lost due to physical abrasion (Chapman & Ballantyne, 1980).  The proportion of eggs lost to abrasion ranged from 11-22 % in samples taken from the Clyde and West of Kintyre (Chapman & Ballantyne, 1980).  Nephrops burrows are also likely to be damaged by abrasion.  However, Marrs et al. (1998) reported that burrows were re-established within 2 days providing that the occupant had remained unharmed (Marrs et al., 1998).  The depth of the burrows constructed by characterizing megafauna (mud-shrimps and Maxmuelleria lankesteri) probably protects the species from surface abrasion and fishing activities. The burrow opening may be damaged (as above) but observations from Loch Sween suggest that they are re-established soon after experimental disturbance (Hughes,1998a).  Atkinson (1989) suggested that trawling was unlikely to affect burrowing megafauna (other than Nephrops) to ‘any great extent’.  Nevertheless, burrow density was lower in frequently trawled areas of Loch Fyne except in areas protected from trawling by submarine obstructions (Howson & Davies, 1991; Hughes, 1998a)

Sensitivity assessment. Overall, surface abrasion by pots and creels is unlikely to affect the three characterizing sea pens adversely.  Towed gear is likely to remove a proportion of sea pens from the sediment, and if damaged they are likely to die, but if undamaged displaced and/or returned to suitable sediment they can recover relatively quickly.  Virgularia mirabilis and Pennatula phosphorea can avoid abrasion by withdrawing into the sediment, but a frequent disturbance will probably reduce feeding time and hence viability.  However, Funiculina quadrangularis cannot withdraw and is the tallest of all three of the sea pens (up to 2 m) and is the most likely to be displaced or removed by surface abrasion and towed gear, a resistance of ‘Low’ is suggested where it is a dominant member of the community, as in CFiMu.SpnMeg.Fun.  As the resilience is probably 'Low', the sensitivity CFiMU.SpnMeg.Fun is probably 'High'.

Low
High
High
Low
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Low
Medium
Medium
Medium
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High
Medium
Low
Low
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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

The relevant evidence on the effects of fishing activities is present above under abrasion. Penetrative gear is likely to remove a greater proportion of the sea pen population, as it may remove them from their burrows, within the footprint of the activity.  Therefore, resistance is assessed as 'Low' for all three sea pen species. As resilience is probably 'Low',  sensitivity is assessed as 'High'.

Low
High
Medium
Low
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Low
Medium
Medium
Medium
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High
Medium
Low
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

The characteristic sea pen species live in sheltered areas, in fine sediments, subject to high suspended sediment loads.  The effect of increased deposition of fine silt is uncertain but it is possible that feeding structures may become clogged.  When tested, Virgularia mirabilis quickly seized and rejected inert particles (Hoare & Wilson, 1977).  Hiscock (1983) observed Virgularia mirabilis secretes copious amounts of mucus which could keep the polyps clear of silt.  Kinnear et al. (1996) noted that Funiculina quadrangularis was quick to remove any adhering mud particles by the production of copious quantities of mucus.  Virgularia mirabilis is also likely to be able to self-clean (Hiscock, 1983).  No indication of the suspended sediment load was given in any evidence found. 

If feeding is reduced by increases in suspended sediment the viability of the population will be reduced.  Once siltation levels return to normal, feeding will be resumed therefore recovery will be immediate.  Similarly,  burrowing megafauna are unlikely to be affected adversely by changes in suspended sediment in the water column. Overall, resistance is probably High, hence, resilience is also ‘High, and the sea pens are probably Not sensitive at the benchmark level. 

High
Medium
Low
Medium
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
Medium
Low
Medium
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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

Pennatula phosphorea and Funiculina quadrangularis were found to recover within 72-96 hours after experimental smothering by pots or creels for 24 hours and after 96-144 hours after 48 hours of smothering by pots or creels (Kinnear et al., 1996; Eno et al., 2001).  However, smothering by a pot or creel differs significantly from 30 cm of fine sediment, which could clog feeding apparatus and exclude oxygen.  Kinnear et al. (1996) noted that Funiculina quadrangularis was quick to remove any adhering mud particles by the production of copious quantities of mucus, once the source of smothering (in this case potting) was removed.  Similarly, Hiscock (1983) observed Virgularia mirabilis secretes copious amounts of mucus, which could keep the polyps clear of silt and is also likely to be able to self-clean.

Where present, the characteristic burrowing megafauna (mud-shrimp and Nephrops) are unlikely to be affected adversely as they are active burrowers and Nephrops norvegicus, Calocaris macandreae and Callianassa subterranea were reported within the Garroch Head (Firth of Clyde) sludge dumping ground (Smith, 1988; cited in Hughes, 1998a).  In addition, if the deposited sediment occludes burrow openings, then they would be reopened quickly. Observations from Loch Sween suggest that they are re-established soon after experimental disturbance (Hughes, 1998a).

All three species occur in deep, sheltered muddy habitats where the accretion rates are potentially high.  Both Pennatula phosphorea and Virgularia mirabilis can burrow and move into and out of their own burrows.  It is probable therefore that deposition of 5 cm of fine sediment will have little effect other than to temporarily suspend feeding and the energetic cost of burrowing.  Funiculina quadrangularis cannot withdraw into a burrow but can stand up to two metres above the substratum, and so will probably not be affected adversely.  However, no direct evidence was found.  Therefore, a resistance of High is suggested, resulting in a resilience of High and sensitivity of Not sensitive at the benchmark level.

High
Low
NR
NR
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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 (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

Pennatula phosphorea and Funiculina quadrangularis were found to recover within 72-96 hours after experimental smothering by pots or creels for 24 hours and after 96-144 hours after 48 hours of smothering by pots or creels (Kinnear et al., 1996; Eno et al., 2001).  However, smothering by a pot or creel differs significantly from 30 cm of fine sediment, which could clog feeding apparatus and exclude oxygen.  Kinnear et al. (1996) noted that Funiculina quadrangularis was quick to remove any adhering mud particles by the production of copious quantities of mucus, once the source of smothering (in this case potting) was removed.  Similarly, Hiscock (1983) observed Virgularia mirabilis secretes copious amounts of mucus, which could keep the polyps clear of silt and is also likely to be able to self-clean.

Where present, the characteristic burrowing megafauna (mud-shrimp and Nephrops) are unlikely to be affected adversely as they are active burrowers and Nephrops norvegicus, Calocaris macandreae and Callianassa subterranea were reported within the Garroch Head (Firth of Clyde) sludge dumping ground (Smith, 1988; cited in Hughes, 1998a).  In addition, if the deposited sediment occludes burrow openings, then they would be reopened quickly. Observations from Loch Sween suggest that they are re-established soon after experimental disturbance (Hughes, 1998a).

All three species occur in deep, sheltered muddy habitats where the accretion rates are potentially high.  Both Pennatula phosphorea and Virgularia mirabilis can burrow and move into and out of their own burrows.  It is probable therefore that deposition of 30 cm of fine sediment will have little effect other than to temporarily suspend feeding and the energetic cost of burrowing.  Funiculina quadrangularis cannot withdraw into a burrow but can stand up to two metres above the substratum, and so will probably not be affected adversely.  However, no direct evidence was found.  Therefore, a resistance of High is suggested, resulting in a resilience of High and sensitivity of Not sensitive at the benchmark level.  

High
Low
NR
NR
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High
High
High
High
Help
Not sensitive
Low
Low
Low
Help
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

Not assessed.

Not Assessed (NA)
NR
NR
NR
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Not assessed (NA)
NR
NR
NR
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Not assessed (NA)
NR
NR
NR
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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

Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
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No evidence (NEv)
NR
NR
NR
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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

Some of the important characterizing species associated with this biotope, in particular, the sea pens, may respond to sound vibrations and can withdraw into the sediment. Feeding will resume once the disturbing factor has passed. However, most of the species are infaunal and unlikely respond to a noise disturbance at the benchmark level. Therefore, this pressure is probably Not relevant in this biotope.

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

Introduction of light or shading

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

Evidence

Hughes (1998a) suggested that sea pens were insensitive to light. In shallow water, Nephrops only forages outside their burrows at night, but in deeper waters (ca 100 m) Nephrops are active during the day (Hughes, 1998a). while Maxmuelleria lankesteri is highly averse to light and its proboscis is only extended to the surface in the shallow waters of Loch Sween (Hughes, 1998a).  Therefore, shading at the surface may alter the response of burrowing megafauna to daylight in the shaded area only but is otherwise unlikely to be detrimental.  It is unlikely that artificial illumination would penetrate deep enough to affect the megafauna, except in the most shallow examples. However, the important characterizing sea pens are unlikely to be affected.  Therefore, the biotope is probably Not sensitive to changes in light.

High
Low
NR
NR
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High
High
High
High
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Not sensitive
Low
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

Not relevant–this pressure is considered applicable to mobile species, e.g. fish and marine mammals rather than seabed habitats. Physical and hydrographic barriers may limit the dispersal of seed.  But seed dispersal is not considered under the pressure definition and benchmark.

Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
Help
Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
Help
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 grounding vessels is addressed under ‘surface abrasion’.

Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
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

Most species within the biotope are burrowing and have no or poor visual perception and are unlikely to be affected by visual disturbance such as shading. Epifauna such as crabs have well developed visual acuity and are likely to respond to movement in order to avoid predators. However, it is unlikely that the species will be affected by visual disturbance at the benchmark level.

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

Use [show more] / [show less] to open/close text displayed

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

No evidence of genetic modification, breeding, or translocation in sea pens or burrowing megafauna was found.

No evidence (NEv)
NR
NR
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
Help
No evidence (NEv)
NR
NR
NR
Help
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

Sternapsis scutata is a non-native polychaete that has extended its range in inshore muddy sediments in the south west of the UK (Shelley et al., 2008). However, in mesocosm experiment, little effect on biological functioning was detected after the introduction of the polychaete and a doubling of its biomass (Shelley et al., 2008). The red king crab Paralithodes camtschaticus is a voracious, omnivorous benthic predator that has spread from the Barents Sea to the coast of Norway, where it is a threat to shellfisheries and demersal fisheries. It has not been recorded in UK waters to date (GBNNSIP, 2011).

No direct evidence on the effect of non-native species on sea pen and burrowing megafauna communities was found. However, this assessment should be revisited in the light of new evidence.

No evidence (NEv)
NR
NR
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
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No evidence (NEv)
NR
NR
NR
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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

The only major disease causing organism found in the biotope is the dinoflagellate parasite, Hematodinium sp. found in Nephrops populations from the west of Scotland, Irish Sea and North Sea (Hughes, 1998b). The parasite occurs in the blood and connective tissue spaces and appears to cause death by blocking the delivery of oxygen to the host's tissues (Taylor et al., 1996). Infection is at its highest in the spring and early summer when a dense concentration of parasite cells in the blood give Nephrops an abnormal bright orange body and milky white ventral abdomen. Heavily infected animals become moribund, spend more time out of their burrows than healthy individuals making them more vulnerable to predation and fishing gear. Heavy infestation is fatal. The ecological consequences of Hematodinium infection and host mortality in Nephrops populations are unknown, but there are potential economic implications since the disease adversely affects meat quality.  However, so far the Nephrops fishery has not suffered any serious decline. The infection appears to be cyclical. In the Clyde Sea, infection peaked in 1991-92 at 70% and had declined to 10 - 20% by 1996-7 (Hughes, 1998a).

However, no evidence was found on pathogen or parasite-mediated disease in sea pens.

Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
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Not relevant (NR)
NR
NR
NR
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No evidence (NEv)
NR
NR
NR
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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

Nephrops norvegicus is a characterizing species and Nephrops fisheries are of major economic importance. The species is fished throughout most of the geographic range of the biotopes in which it occurs including CMU.SpMeg. In trawled areas it is likely that the density of Nephrops norvegicus has been reduced but Hughes (1998b) reports that most stocks have the potential to recover even after heavy fishing pressure. Atkinson (1989) concluded that trawling for Nephrops was unlikely to affect other megafaunal burrowers to any great extent. The upper section of burrows will be disrupted by trawling but observations in Loch Sween have shown that surface openings are soon re-established (Hughes, 1998b).

Sensitivity assessment. This pressure considers any biological effects resulting from the removal of target species.  Sea pens are not targeted by commercial fisheries and hence are not directly affected by this pressure.  Although Nephrops is targeted the ecological relationships between sea pens and burrowing megafauna are unclear (Hughes, 1998a).  Direct effects of static or mobile gears that are targeting other species are assessed in under abrasion and penetration of the seabed pressures.  Therefore, the biotope is considered to be Not sensitive (to the ecological effects only) of targeted removal of other species.

High
Low
NR
NR
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High
High
High
High
Help
Not sensitive
Low
Low
Low
Help
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

Sea pens are not targeted by commercial or recreational fisheries but may be damaged or removed as by-catch and loss of the sea pens would change the biological character of the biotope.  In observations of the impact of creeling activities, all three British species proved able to re-anchor themselves provided the basal peduncle remained in contact with the sediment surface (Kinnear et al., 1996; Eno et al., 2001) (see abrasion above). Virgularia mirabilis was found to withdraw into its burrow rapidly (ca 30 seconds) and could not be uprooted by dragged creels (Hoare & Wilson 1977; Eno et al., 2001; Ambroso et al. 2013).  Pennatula phosphorea and Funiculina quadrangularis recovered with 72-96 hours after experimental smothering for 24 hours by pot or creel and after 96-144 hours of smothering for 48 hours (Kinnear et al. 1996; Eno et al. 2001). 

The ability to withdraw also suggests that sea pens can avoid approaching demersal trawls and fishing gear.  This was suggested as the explanation for the similarity in the densities of Virgularia mirabilis in trawled and untrawled sites in Loch Fyne, and the lack of change in sea pen density observed after experimental trawling (using modified rock hopper ground gear) over a 18 month period in Loch Gareloch (Howson & Davies, 1991; Hughes, 1998a; Tuck et al., 1998).  Kenchington et al. (2011) estimated the gear efficiency of otter trawls for sea pens (Anthoptilum and Pennatula) to be in the range of 3.7 – 8.2%, based on estimates of sea pen biomass from (non-destructive) towed camera surveys.  However, species obtained by dredges were invariably damaged (Hoare & Wilson, 1977). 

It should be noted that Funiculina quadrangularis cannot withdraw into the sediment. A study of the effects of experimental trawling damage in the sea whip Halipteris willemoesi suggests that recovery from dislodging and abrasion in Funinculina quadrangularis may have been over-estimated. Halipteris willemoesi is a functionally similar species to Funiculina quadrangularis, as it is tall, thin, and cannot withdraw into the sediment.  Malecha & Stone (2009) simulated trawl damage in field populations in Alaskan waters, by abrading the sea whip with rubber disks (similar to rubber tire punch-outs used on the footrope of many trawls), dislodging them from the sediment and breaking the axial rod manually. All the specimens abraded repaired tissue damage and survived the experimental period. However, the authors noted that the experimental abrasion probably underestimated the effect of trawls as it did not include the mechanical force of the mobile gear and that even the smallest amount of tissue damage probably decreased the sea whip's ability to reproduce. Fifty percent of the dislodged sea whips were able to rebury and become erect within 18 days. Only 42% of the fractured sea whips were erect 18 days after treatment. However, only one specimen was erect after the 372 days of the experiment. There was no evidence to suggest that specimens could repair their damaged axial rods. After 372 days, 92% of the dislodged and 100% of the fractured specimens had substantial tissue loss and perished. Tissue loss was exaggerated by predation from nudibranchs, which appeared to be attracted to the experimental area, possibly due to the tissue damage suffered by the sea whips (Malecha & Stone, 2009).

Hoare & Wilson (1977) noted that Virgularia was absent for areas of Holyhead Harbour disturbed by dragging or boat mooring, although no causal evidence was given (Hughes, 1998a).  Sea pens are potentially vulnerable to long lining.  Munoz et al. (2011) noted that small numbers of Pennatulids (inc. Pennatula sp.) were retrieved from experimental long-lining around the Hatton Bank in the north east Atlantic, presumably either attached to hooks or wrapped in line as it passed across the sediment.  Hixon & Tissot (2007) noted that sea pens (Stylatula sp.) were four times more abundant in untrawled areas relative to trawled areas in the Coquille Bank, Oregon, although no causal relationship was shown.  Greathead et al. (2011) noted that Funiculina quadrangularis was largely absent from Fladen fishing grounds in the northern North Sea, possibly due to its patchy distribution or fishing activities. Murillo et al. (2016) noted that species richness of the deep mud (>500m) communities (that included sea pens Funiculina quadrangularis and Anthoptilum grandiflorum) off the Tail of the Grand Bank and Flemish Cap, in north west Atlantic was negatively correlated with fishing intensity. In the southern Barents Sea, Buhl-Mortensen et al. (2016) reported that 70 of the 97 most common taxa (including Funiculina quadragularis) from the shelf (50-400 m) and slope (400-2000 m) were negatively correlated with fishing intensity.

Sensitivity assessment. The removal of a proportion of the sea pen population as by-catch would change the character of the biotope. Therefore, a resistance of ‘Medium’ is suggested for Pennatula phosphorea and Virgularia mirabilis.  However, as Funiculina quadrangularis cannot withdraw and is more likely to be removed by bottom gears, a resistance of ‘Low’ is suggested in CFiMu.SpnMeg.Fun.  As the resilience is probably 'Low', the sensitivity of SpnMeg.Fun is assessed as 'High'.

Low
High
High
Low
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Low
Medium
Medium
Medium
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High
Medium
Low
Low
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Citation

This review can be cited as:

Tyler-Walters, H., & Watson, A., 2023. Seapens, including Funiculina quadrangularis, and burrowing megafauna in undisturbed circalittoral fine 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 22-06-2024]. Available from: https://www.marlin.ac.uk/habitat/detail/239

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  1. Seapen
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