Shellfish reefs increase water storage capacity on intertidal flats over extensive spatial scales

Nieuwhof, S., van Belzen, J., Oteman, B., van de Koppel, J., Herman, P. M. J. & van der Wal, D., Mar-2018, In : Ecosystems. 21, 2, p. 360-372 13 p.

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Ecosystem engineering species can affect their environment at multiple spatial scales, from the local scale up to a significant distance, by indirectly affecting the surrounding habitats. Structural changes in the landscape can have important consequences for ecosystem functioning, for example, by increasing retention of limiting resources in the system. Yet, it remains poorly understood how extensive the footprint of ecosystem engineers on the landscape is. Using remote sensing techniques, we reveal that depression storage capacity on intertidal flats is greatly enhanced by engineering by shellfish resulting in intertidal pools. Many organisms use such pools to bridge low water events. This storage capacity was significantly higher both locally within the shellfish reef, but also at extensive spatial scales up to 115 m beyond the physical reef borders. Therefore, the footprint of these ecosystem engineers on the landscape was more than 5 times larger than their actual coverage; the shellfish cover approximately 2% of the total intertidal zone, whereas they influence up to approximately 11% of the area by enhancing water storage capacity. We postulate that increased residence time of water due to higher water storage capacity within engineered landscapes is an important determinant of ecosystem functioning that may extend well beyond the case of shellfish reefs provided here.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-372
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2018


  • ecosystem engineering, depression storage capacity, shellfish reef, mussel, oyster, intertidal pool, spatially extended effects, water retention, ECOSYSTEM ENGINEERS, COMMUNITY STRUCTURE, SPECIES RICHNESS, MUSSEL BEDS, DEPRESSION-STORAGE, SEDIMENT DYNAMICS, LANDSCAPE-SCALE, OYSTER REEFS, WADDEN SEA, HABITAT

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