Sediment burial intolerance of marine macroinvertebrates

Vicki J. Hendrick, Zoë L. Hutchison, Kim S. Last

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


The marine environment contains suspended particulate matter which originates from natural and anthropogenic sources. Settlement of this material can leave benthic organisms susceptible to smothering, especially if burial is sudden i.e. following storms or activities such as dredging. Their survival will depend on their tolerance to, and their ability to escape from burial. Here we present data from a multi-factorial experiment measuring burial responses incorporating duration, sediment fraction and depth. Six macroinvertebrates commonly found in sediment rich environments were selected for their commercial and/or conservation importance. Assessments revealed that the brittle star (Ophiura ophiura), the queen scallop (Aequipecten opercularis) and the sea squirt (Ciona intestinalis) were all highly intolerant to burial whilst the green urchin (Psammichinus miliaris) and the anemone (Sagartiogeton laceratus), showed intermediate and low intolerance respectively, to burial. The least intolerant, with very high survival was the Ross worm (Sabellaria spinulosa). With the exception of C. intestinalis, increasing duration and depth of burial with finer sediment fractions resulted in increased mortality for all species assessed. For C. intestinalis depth of burial and sediment fraction were found to be inconsequential since there was complete mortality of all specimens buried for more than one day. When burial emergence was assessed O. ophiura emerged most frequently, followed by P. miliaris. The former emerged most frequently from the medium and fine sediments whereas P. miliaris emerged more frequently from coarse sediment. Both A. opercularis and S. laceratus showed similar emergence responses over time, with A. opercularis emerging more frequently under coarse sediments. The frequency of emergence of S. laceratus increased with progressively finer sediment and C. intestinalis did not emerge from burial irrespective of sediment fraction or depth. Finally, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest ability to emerge from burial in all other species was from shallow (2 cm) burial. Although survival was consistently highly dependent on duration and depth of burial as expected, emergence behaviour was not as easily predictable thereby confounding predictions. We conclude that responses to burial are highly species specific and therefore tolerance generalisations are likely to be oversimplifications. These data may be used to inform environmental impact models that allow forecasting of the cumulative impacts of seabed disturbance and may provide mitigation measures for the sustainable use of the seabed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0149114
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


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