Physical determinants of intertidal communities on dissipative beaches: Implications of sea-level rise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sea-level rise is likely to cause significant changes in the morphodynamic state of beaches in the higher latitudes, resulting in steeper beaches with larger particle sizes. These physical changes have implications for beach invertebrate communities, which are determined largely by sediment particle size, and hence for ecosystem function. Previous studies have explored the relationships between invertebrate communities and environmental variables such as particle size, beach slope and exposure to wave action, and often these physical variables can be integrated in various indices of morphodynamic state. Most of these studies incorporated a full range of beach types that included wave-dominated surf beaches, where the wave action is harsh enough to enable reliable estimates of breaker height, a parameter included in several of the indices, and concluded that more dissipative beaches with gentler slopes and finer particle sizes often support a higher number of species and greater abundance than more reflective beaches. Whether these predictions remain valid for less wave-dominated beaches, where breaker height is more difficult to determine, is uncertain. In the present study, the abundance of meio- and macrofauna was quantified across a range of beaches in the UK, which are generally towards the lower energy end of the morphodynamic gradient, and their relationships with beach physical properties explored. No significant relationships were found between abundance and the standard morphoclynamic indices, but significant relationships were found for both macro- and meiofaunal abundance when these indices were combined with an exposure index (derived from velocity, direction, duration and the effective fetch). All the relationships identified between abundance and combined morphodynamic indices indicated a higher abundance of both macro- and meiofauna on the more dissipative beaches. The reverse was however found for species richness. If predictions that accelerated sea-level rise will move beaches towards a more reflective morphodynamic state are correct, this could lead to declines in the abundance of meio- and macrofauna, with potential adverse consequences for ecosystem functioning. (C) 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-278
Number of pages12
JournalEstuarine coastal and shelf science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2010


  • sandy beaches
  • macrofauna
  • meiofauna
  • beach morphodynamics
  • estuary

Cite this