Not all artificial structures are created equal: pilings linked to greater ecological and environmental change in sediment communities than seawalls

Eliza C. Heery*, Katherine A. Dafforn, James A. Smith, Shinjiro Ushiama, Mariana Mayer-Pinto

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Artificial structures are agents of change in marine ecosystems. They add novel habitat for hard-substrate organisms and modify the surrounding environment. Most research to date has focused on the communities living directly on artificial structures, and more research is needed on the potential impacts these structures have on nearby communities and the surrounding environment. We compared the sedimentary habitat surrounding two types of artificial structures (pilings and seawalls) to sediments adjacent to rocky reefs using a combination of traditional sediment analyses, stable isotope analysis, and environmental DNA. Artificial and natural shore sediments were best differentiated by sediment variables strongly associated with flow speed. Pilings sediments had significantly finer grain size, higher organic content, and generally lower C:N ratios than sediments adjacent to the other habitat types, suggesting flow is reduced by pilings. Sedimentary assemblages near pilings were also consistent with those predicted under low-flow conditions, with elevated bacterial colonization and increased relative abundances of small deposit feeders compared with other habitat types. Additionally, lumbrinerid polychaetes in pilings sediments had reduced δ15N values, suggesting different detrital resources and fewer trophic linkages compared with lumbrinerids in other habitats. Woody detritus was greater adjacent to seawalls than to natural rocky shores or pilings. Our findings suggest that artificial structures have the potential to influence adjacent soft sediments through changes to sediment properties that affect infaunal and microbial communities, as well as trophic linkages for some consumers. We hypothesize that this is due to a combination of altered flow, differing detrital subsidies, and differing adjacent land-use among habitat types. Managers should consider the potential for changed sediment properties and ecology when deciding where to build different types of artificial structures. Further manipulative experiments are needed to understand mechanisms of change and help manage the impacts of artificial structures on the seafloor.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)286-294
    Number of pages9
    JournalMarine Environmental Research
    Early online date6 Sept 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


    • Ecology
    • Environmental impact
    • Ocean sprawl
    • Sedimentary ecosystems
    • Shoreline armoring
    • Soft bottom
    • Urban infrastructure


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