Sandy beaches in a coastline vulnerable to erosion in Atlantic Canada: Macrobenthic community structure in relation to backshore and physical features

Mitchell R. MacMillan, Cristian Duarte, Pedro A. Quijón

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Most literature suggests that sandy beach macrobenthic communities are structured by physical factors. However, an aspect that has not been studied in detail is whether those physical factors change with erosion or the association of beaches to backshore features like sand dunes, till bluffs, and sandstone cliffs. We addressed this question by sampling 14 sandy beaches on the north shore of Prince Edward Island, Atlantic Canada. Two null hypotheses were tested: first, there is no relationship between physical factors and community descriptors across sandy beaches, and second, there is no difference among beaches associated with distinct backshore features both in terms of physical factors and community descriptors. In order to test these hypotheses, samples of macrobenthic organisms and measurements of grain size, slope, beach deposit index and erosion rates were obtained. Our surveys collected a total of 14 taxa numerically dominated by the spionid polychaete Scolelepis squamata. With regards to the first hypothesis, regression analyses showed that community descriptors were all positively related to erosion rates while unrelated to the variation in grain size, slope and beach deposit index. As for the second hypothesis, erosion rates were significantly different among beaches associated to till bluffs (highest), dunes and sandstone cliffs (lowest). Meanwhile, the other physical factors did not significantly differ among backshore features. Species richness was highest in beaches associated to till bluffs and lowest in those associated to sandstone cliffs. Abundance values were also lowest in beaches associated to sandstone cliffs, and their community composition was significantly different to those associated to dunes and till bluffs. We suggest that the relationship between erosion rates and community descriptors is complex and may be mediated by the availability of nutrients: higher erosion levels might account for higher concentrations of nutrients for suspension feeders, the numerically dominant organisms in this system. We call for further attention to the relationship between erosion and suspended nutrients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-33
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Sea Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • Atlantic Canada
  • Backshore features
  • Erosion
  • Macrobenthos
  • Sandy beaches

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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