Nereis diversicolor effect on the stability of cohesive intertidal sediments

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The effect of the polychaete Nereis diversicolor on the stability of natural cohesive sediments was investigated in the laboratory. Three densities (450, 600 and 1200ind m−2) of N. diversicolor were used. Sediment shear strength was measured using a cone penetrometer. Sediment erodability was assessed using an annular flume (current velocities from 5 to 55cms−1) in which flow velocity was increased incrementally, and water sampled to quantify suspended material in order to derive critical erosion velocity and erosion rates. At low current velocities ( <25cms−1), we found N. diversicolor to have a stabilising effect, reflected by an increase of up to 20% in the critical erosion velocity. This is related to an enhancement of ~50% in shear strength, due probably to gallery building activities, responsible for the promotion of lateral compaction, an increase in the area of the sediment–water interface, and enhanced microphytobenthos production. Once the sediment began to erode, the stabilising effect of N. diversicolor reverses, leading to an increase of up to 40% in eroded matter due to compaction, which resulted in the erosion of larger aggregates. The balance between the effect of N. diversicolor on herbivory and microphytobenthos production due to the presence of galleries is discussed. Our results indicate that neither chlorophyll a, nor shear strength nor critical erosion velocity are good indicators of erodability. This underlines the need to include biogeochemical processes in any realistic sediment transport model.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)567-579
Number of pages13
JournalAquatic Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006


  • Resuspension
  • Shear strength
  • Bioturbation
  • Critical erosion velocity
  • Erosion rates


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