Exploiting beach filling as an unaffordable experiment: Benthic intertidal impacts propagating upwards to shorebirds

Charles H. Peterson*, Melanie J. Bishop, Galen A. Johnson, Linda M. D'Anna, Lisa M. Manning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Citations (Scopus)


Cold-season filling using much coarser sediments than the native caused dramatic suppression of beach macroinvertebrates, demonstrably degrading habitat value for foraging shorebirds. As a dual consequence of persistent steepening of the foreshore, which translated to reduction in habitat area by 14-29%, and disturbance-induced depression of invertebrate densities on filled beaches, abundances of Donax spp. and haustoriid amphipods averaged less than 10% of control levels. Donax spp. is the biomass dominant and a key prey for higher trophic levels. Haustoriids lack pelagic larvae. Recovery on filled beaches was not initiated by either taxon during the March-November sampling. Emerita talpoida, an order of magnitude less abundant than Donax spp. on control beaches, exhibited a pattern of initial depression on filled beaches but recovered by mid summer. Polychaetes, mostly the small Scolelepis squamata, experienced a warm-season bloom of equal magnitude on filled and control beaches. Summertime recruitment of predatory ghost crabs appeared inhibited on filled beaches, perhaps by persistent shell hash. Intertidal shell cover on filled beaches averaged 25-50% in mid summer as compared to 6-8% on control beaches. Largely in response to prey depression, but perhaps also to surface shell armoring and/or coarsening of sediments, shorebird (mostly sanderling) use plummeted by 70-90% on filled beaches until November. Thus, despite likely adaptations to natural sediment dynamics, the high intensity of sediment deposition, cumulative spatial scope (10.8 km), and unnaturally coarse shelly character of the Bogue Banks beach nourishment resulted in a perturbation that exceeded biotic resistance and degraded the trophic transfer function of this highly productive habitat for at least one warm season.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-221
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


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