MEPS 383:211-224 (2009)  -  doi:10.3354/meps07994

Patchiness of macrobenthic invertebrates in homogenized intertidal habitats: hidden spatial structure at a landscape scale

Casper Kraan1,*, Jaap van der Meer1, Anne Dekinga1, Theunis Piersma1,2

1Department of Marine Ecology, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, The Netherlands
2Animal Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies (CEES), University of Groningen, PO Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands
*Email:

ABSTRACT: Many terrestrial habitats, and certainly man-made systems such as woodland and agricultural habitats, are characterised by a mosaic of different habitat types. In contrast, most seafloors have a rather uniform visual appearance which is enhanced by the cryptic nature of many of their inhabitants. The present study aimed to: (1) describe landscape scale spatial patterns of benthic infauna after evaluating 3 methods for analyzing autocorrelations (Moran’s I, semivariance and fractals), (2) compare the benthic patterns with patterns described for other organisms, and (3) highlight shared characteristics. During 4 consecutive years (2002 to 2005) we assessed spatial structuring of 4 intertidal benthic invertebrates (Cerastoderma edule, Macoma balthica, Nereis diversicolor and Nepthys hombergii) in the Wadden Sea, The Netherlands. We annually sampled ~2750 stations based on a 250 m grid, covering an area of ca. 225 km2. On the basis of simulated spatial distributions, we selected Moran’s I to analyze spatial patterns for the following reasons: (1) due to standardization, results can be directly compared, (2) Moran’s I is the least difficult to evaluate, since it is related to the familiar Pearson’s correlation coefficient, and (3) significance can readily be assessed. The 4 benthic species were all spatially structured at the landscape scale, with spatial features being smaller than the physical structure of the intertidal environment, i.e. the intertidal extent. During the 4 yr, some species changed their distribution, but spatial characteristics, i.e. patch size and amplitude of autocorrelation, remained similar. Higher overall density resulted in stronger autocorrelation with no differences between species. A comparison between spatial structuring of benthic fauna with patterns encountered in other habitats, whether marine or terrestrial, was unsuccessful due to differences in extent and grain. We argue that future research should focus on spatial structure in species’ distributions as an ecological relevant parameter.


KEY WORDS: Cryptic macrozoobenthos · Intertidal · Landscape scale · Patch size · Spatial structure · Wadden Sea


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Cite this article as: Kraan C, van der Meer J, Dekinga A, Piersma T (2009) Patchiness of macrobenthic invertebrates in homogenized intertidal habitats: hidden spatial structure at a landscape scale. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 383:211-224

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