Are we there yet? Management baselines and biodiversity indicators for the protection and restoration of subtidal bivalve shellfish habitats

Jose Maria Farinas-Franco, Robert L. Cook, Fiona R. Gell, Daniel Bernard Harries, Natalie E. Hirst, Flora Kent, Rebecca MacPherson, Colin Moore, James McD Mair, Joanne S. Porter, William G. Sanderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


Biodiversity loss and degradation of natural habitats is increasing at an unprecedented rate. Of all marine habitats, biogenic reefs created by once-widespread shellfish, are now one of the most imperilled, and globally scarce. Conservation managers seek to protect and restore these habitats, but suitable baselines and indicators are required, and detailed scientific accounts are rare and inconsistent.

In the present study the biodiversity of a model subtidal habitat, formed by the keystone horse mussel Modiolus modiolus (L.), was analysed across its Northeast Atlantic biogeographical range. Consistent samples of ‘clumped’ mussels were collected at 16 locations, covering a wide range of environmental conditions. Analysis of the associated macroscopic biota showed high biodiversity across all sites, cumulatively hosting 924 marine macroinvertebrate and algal taxa.

There was a rapid increase in macroinvertebrate biodiversity (H′) and community evenness (J) between 2 and 10 mussels per clump, reaching an asymptote at mussel densities of 10 per clump. Diversity declined at more northern latitudes, with depth and in coarser substrata with the fastest tidal flows. Diversity metrics corrected for species abundance were generally high across the habitats sampled, with significant latitudinal variability caused by current, depth and substrate type. Faunal community composition varied significantly between most sites and was difficult to assign to a ‘typical’ M. modiolus assemblage, being significantly influenced by regional environmental conditions, including the presence of algal turfs.

Within the context of the rapid global increase in protection and restoration of bivalve shellfish habitats, site and density-specific values of diversity are probably the best targets for conservation management and upon which to base monitoring programmes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number161001
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date17 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2023


  • Benthic habitats
  • Biodiversity
  • Biogenic reefs
  • Diversity indices
  • Ecological indicators

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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