Scientia Marina, Vol 73, No 2 (2009)

Spatial and temporal patterns of benthic invertebrates in the Tagus estuary, Portugal: comparison between subtidal and an intertidal mudflat

Susana França
Instituto de Oceanografia, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa , Portugal

Catarina Vinagre
Instituto de Oceanografia, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa , Portugal

Miguel A. Pardal
IMAR – Institute of Marine Research, Department of Zoology, University of Coimbra , Portugal

Henrique N. Cabral
Instituto de Oceanografia, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa , Portugal


Intertidal mudflats are a dominant feature in many estuarine systems and may be a significant component of the feeding grounds available for many fish and bird species. Therefore, it is crucial to determine the importance and role that this particular habitat plays for the different estuarine communities. Spatial and temporal dynamics of macrobenthic communities in an intertidal mudflat of the Tagus estuary were assessed in order to determine the role of this habitat in the whole estuarine functioning. Benthic macroinvertebrate communities were sampled monthly in two intertidal areas (upper and lower) and in the adjoining subtidal area for one year. Macroinvertebrate density and biomass in the intertidal mudflat were higher than in the subtidal area, but no clear trends were found between the lower and upper intertidal area. Spatial patterns in the community were more pronounced than seasonal patterns. This benthic community was characterised by high densities of Pygospio elegans, Scrobicularia plana, Cyathura carinata, Hydrobia ulvae and Nereis diversicolor. Abundance and biomass values in this intertidal mudflat were considered low in comparison with other estuarine habitats, namely seagrass beds. Nevertheless, this habitat plays an important role for the main species present in the community, acting as a key area for recruitment, with high concentrations for many invertebrate species.


benthic macroinvertebrates; community structure; intertidal mudflat; subtidal; Tagus estuary

Full Text:



Abrantes, A., F. Pinto and M.H. Moreira. – 1999. Ecology of the polychaete Nereis diversicolor in the Canal de Mira (Ria de Aveiro, Portugal): Population dynamics, production and oogenic cycle. Acta Oecol., 20(4): 267-283. doi:10.1016/S1146-609X(99)00139-3

Bettencourt, A., I. Cruz, J.G. Ferreira, J.L. Costa, M.C. Silva and F.V. Gomes. – 2001. Ecossistemas aquáticos- estuários e águas costeiras. In: C.A. Aires and O. Borges. Plano nacional de água. Volume I – Introdução, caracterização e diagnóstico da situação actual dos recursos hídricos, pp:32 (7-II)-61 (7-II). INAG, Lisboa.

Bettencourt, A. and L. Ramos. – 2003. Estuários Portugueses. Instituto da Água.

Beukema, J.J. – 1974. Seasonal changes in the biomass of the macro- benthos of a tidal flat area in the Dutch Wadden Sea. Neth. J. Sea Res., 8(1): 94-107. doi:10.1016/0077-7579(74)90028-3

Boer, W.F. and H.H.T Prins. – 2002. The community structure of a tropical intertidal mudflat under human exploitation. ICES J. Mar. Sci., 59: 1237-1247. doi:10.1006/jmsc.2002.1287

Borja, A., F. Aguirrezabalaga, J. Martinez, C. Sola, L. Garcia- Arberas and M. Gorostiaga. – 2004. Benthic communities, biogeography and resources management. In: A. Borja, and M. Collins, Oceanography and Marine Environment of the Basque Country, pp. 455-492. Elsevier Oceanography. (Series 70). Elsevier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Cabral, J.A., M.A. Pardal, R.J. Lopes, T. Múrias and J.C. Marques. – 1999. The impact of macroalgal blooms on the use of the intertidal area and feeding behaviour of waders (Charadrii) in the Mondego estuary (west Portugal). Acta Oecol., 20: 417–427. doi:10.1016/S1146-609X(99)00126-5

Cabral, H.N. – 2000. Comparative feeding ecology of sympatric Solea solea and Solea senegalensis, within the nursery areas of the Tagus estuary, Portugal. J. Fish Biol., 57: 1550-1562. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8649.2000.tb02231.x

Cabral, H.N., M.J. Costa and J.P. Salgado. – 2001. Does the Tagus estuary fish community reflect environmental changes? Clim. Res., 18: 119-126. doi:10.3354/cr018119

Calvário, J. – 1982. Estudo ambiental do estuário do Tejo: povoamentos bentónicos intertidais (substratos móveis). CNA TEJO 19, Rel 18, Comissão Nacional do Ambiente, Lisboa, Portugal.

Cardoso, I., J.P. Granadeiro and H.N. Cabral. – 2008. Benthic prey quantity and quality in the main mudflat feeding areas of the Tagus estuary: implications for bird and fish populations. Cienc. Mar., 34(3):283-296.

Chainho, P., J.L. Costa, M.L. Chaves, M.F. Lane, D.M Dauer and M.J. Costa. – 2006. Seasonal and spatial patterns of distribution of subtidal benthic invertebrate communities in the Mondego River, Portugal – a poikilohaline estuary. Hydrobiologia, 555: 59-74. doi:10.1007/s10750-005-1132-2

Costa, M.J. and A. Bruxelas. – 1989. The structure of fish communities in the Tagus Estuary, Portugal, and its role as a nursery for commercial fish species. Sci. Mar., 53(2-3): 561-566.

Costa, M.J. and H.N. Cabral. – 1999. Changes in the Tagus nursery function for commercial fish species: some perspectives for management. Aquat. Ecol., 33: 287-292. doi:10.1023/A:1009904621771

Costanza, R., R. Arge, R. de Groot, S. Farber, M. Grasso, B. Hannon, K. Limburg, S. Naeem, R.V. O’neill, J. Paruelo, R.G. Raskin, P. Sutton and M. van den Belt. – 1997. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature, 387: 253-260. doi:10.1038/387253a0

Dewicke, A., A. Cattrijsse, J. Mees and M. Vincx. – 2003. Spatial patterns of the hyperbenthos of subtidal sandbanks in the southern North Sea. J. Sea Res., 49: 27-45. doi:10.1016/S1385-1101(02)00167-3

Dittmann, S. – 2000. Zonation of benthic communities in a tropical tidal flat of north-east Australia. J. Sea Res., 43: 33-51. doi:10.1016/S1385-1101(00)00004-6

Dolbeth, M., M.A. Pardal, A.I. Lillebø, U. Azeiteiro and J.C. Marques. – 2003. Short and long-term effects of eutrophication on the secondary production of an intertidal macrobenthic community. Mar. Biol., 143: 1229-1238. doi:10.1007/s00227-003-1133-5

Elliott, M. and C.J.M. Taylor. – 1989. The production ecology of the subtidal benthos of the Forth Estuary, Scotland. Sci. Mar., 53: 531-541.

Elliott, M. and F. Dewailly. – 1995. The structure and components of European estuarine fish assemblages. Neth. J. Aquatic Ecol., 29: 397-417 doi:10.1007/BF02084239

Elliott M. and K.L. Hemingway. – 2002. Fishes in Estuaries. Blackwell Science.

Farinha, J., L. Costa, A. Trindade, P. Araújo and E. Silva. – 2001. Zonas Húmidas Portuguesas de Importância Internacional. Sítios Inscritos na Convenção de Ramsar, 1ª ed. Lisboa. Instituto da Conservação da Natureza, 88 p.

Ferreira, S.M., M.A. Pardal, A.I. Lillebø, P.G. Cardoso and J.C. Marques. – 2004. Population dynamics of Cyathura carinata (Isopoda) in a eutrophic temperate ecstuary. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 61: 669-677. doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2004.08.001

França, S., M.A. Pardal and H.N. Cabral. – 2008. Mudflat nekton assemblages in the Tagus estuary (Portugal): distribution and feeding patterns. Sci. Mar., 72(3): 591-602. doi:10.3989/scimar.2008.72n3591

Frontier, S. – 1983. Stratégies d’Échantillonage en Écologie. Masson, Paris.

Guerreiro, J. – 1998. Growth and production of the bivalve Scrobicularia plana in two southern European estuaries. Vie Milieu, 48: 121-131.

Heck, K.L., K.W. Able, C.T. Roman and M.P. Fahay. – 1995. Composition, abundance, biomass and production of macrofauna in a New England estuary: comparisons among eelgrass meadows and other nursery habitats. Estuaries, 18(2): 379-389. doi:10.2307/1352320

Hyland, J.L., W.L. Balthis, M. Posey, C.T. Hackney and T. Alphin. – 2004. The soft-bottom macrobenthos of North Carolina estuaries. Estuaries, 27: 501-514. doi:10.1007/BF02803541

Junoy, J. and J.M. Viéitez. -1990. Macrozoobenthic community structure in the Ria de Foz, an intertidal estuary (Galicia, Northwest Spain). Mar. Biol., 107: 329-339. doi:10.1007/BF01319833

Kalejta, B. and P.A.R. Hockey. – 1991. Distribution, abundance and productivity of benthic invertebrates at the Berg River Estuary, South Africa. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 33: 175-191. doi:10.1016/0272-7714(91)90005-V

Laine, A.O. – 2003. Distribution of soft-bottom macrofauna in the deep open Baltic Sea in relation to environmental variability. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 57: 87-97. doi:10.1016/S0272-7714(02)00333-5

Marques, J.C., L.B. Rodrigues and A.J.A. Nogueira. – 1993a. Intertidal macrobenthic community structure in the Mondego estuary (Western Portugal): reference situation. Vie Milieu, 43 (2-3): 177-187.

Marques, J.C., P. Maranhão and M.A. Pardal. – 1993b. Human impact assessment on the subtidal macrobenthic community structure in the Mondego estuary (western Portugal). Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 37: 403-419. doi:10.1006/ecss.1993.1064

Marques, J.C., I. Martins, C. Teles-Ferreira and S. Cruz. – 1994. Population dynamics, life history, and production of Cyathura carinata (Krøyer) (Isopoda: Anthuridae) in the Mondego Estuary, Portugal. J. Crust. Biol., 14: 258-272. doi:10.2307/1548906

Masero, J.A., M. Pérez-González, M. Basadre and M. Otero-Saavedra. – 1999. Food supply for waders (Aves: Charadrii) in an estuarine area in the Bay of Cádiz (SW Iberian Peninsula). Acta Oecol., 20: 429-434. doi:10.1016/S1146-609X(99)00125-3

McLusky, D.S. – 1989. The estuarine ecosystem. Blackie & Son, Glasgow and London. Chapman & Hall, New York.

Melville, A.J. and R.M. Connolly. – 2005. Food webs supporting fish over subtropical mudflats are based on transported organic matter not in situ microalgae. Mar. Biol., 148: 363-371. doi:10.1007/s00227-005-0083-5

Michaelis, H., H. Fock, M. Grotjahn and D. Post. – 1992. The status of the intertidal zoobenthic brackish water species in estuaries of the German bight, Neth. J. Sea Res., 30: 201-207. doi:10.1016/0077-7579(92)90058-M

Moreira, F. – 1999. On the use by birds on intertidal areas of the Tagus estuary: implications for management. Aquat. Ecol., 33: 301-309. doi:10.1023/A:1009908722680

Morrisey, D.J., G.A. Skilleter, J.I. Ellis, B.R. Burns, C.E. Kemp and K. Burt. – 2003. Differences in benthic fauna and sediment among mangrove (Avicennia marina var. australasica) stands of different ages in New Zealand. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 56: 581-592. doi:10.1016/S0272-7714(02)00208-1

Morrison, M.A., M.P. Francis, B.W. Hartill and D.M. Parkinson. – 2002. Diurnal and tidal variation in the abundance of the fish fauna of a temperate tidal mudflat. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 54: 793-807. doi:10.1006/ecss.2001.0857

Mucha, A.P. and M.C. Costa. – 1999. Macrozoobenthic structure in two Portuguese estuaries: relationship with organic enrichment and nutrient gradients. Acta Oecol., 20: 363-376. doi:10.1016/S1146-609X(99)00130-7

Mucha, A.P., M.T. Vasconcelos and A. Bordalo. – 2005. Spatial and seasonal variations of the macrobenthic community and metal contamination in the Douro estuary (Portugal). Mar. Environ. Res., 60: 531-550. doi:10.1016/j.marenvres.2004.12.004 PMid:15919109

Odum, E.P. – 1983. Basic Ecology. Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia.

Reise, K. – 1985. Tidal flat Ecology. Springer, Berlin.

Rodrigues, A.M., S. Meireles, T. Pereira, A. Gama and V. Quintino. – 2006. Spatial patterns of benthic macroinvertebrates in intertidal areas of a Southern European estuary: the Tagus, Portugal. Hydrobiologia, 555: 99-113. doi:10.1007/s10750-005-1109-1

Sheridan, P. – 1997. Benthos of adjacent mangrove, seagrass and non-vegetated habitats in Rookery Bay, Florida, USA. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 44: 455-469. doi:10.1006/ecss.1996.0125

Silva, G., J.L. Costa, P.R. Almeida and M.J. Costa. – 2006. Structure and dynamics of a benthic invertebrate community in an intertidal area of the Tagus estuary, western Portugal: a six year data series. Hydrobiologia, 555: 115-128. doi:10.1007/s10750-005-1110-8

Sola, J.C. – 1997. Reproduction, population dynamics growth and production of Scrobicularia plana da Costa (Pelecypoda) in the Bidasoa estuary, Spain Neth. J. Aquatic Ecol., 30(4): 283-296. doi:10.1007/BF02085872

Sprung, M. – 1994. Macrobenthic secondary production in the intertidal zone of Ria Formosa—a lagoon in southern Portugal. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 38: 539-558. doi:10.1006/ecss.1994.1037

Ter Braak, C.J.F. and P. Smilauer. – 2002. CANOCO Reference Manual and CanoDraw for windows User’s Guide: Software for Canonical Community Ordination. Version 4.5. Microcomputer Power, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Verdelhos, T., J.M. Neto, J.C. Marques and M.A. Pardal. – 2005. The effect of eutrophication abatement on the bivalve Scrobicularia plana Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 63: 261-268. doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2004.11.019

Vinagre, C., S. França and H.N. Cabral. – 2006. Diel and semilunar patterns in the use of an intertidal mudflat by juveniles of Senegal sole, Solea senegalensis. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 69(1-2): 246-254. doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2006.04.017

Wanink, J.H and L. Zwarts. – 1993. Environmental effects on the growth rate of intertidal invertebrates and some implications for foraging waders. Neth. J. Sea Res., 31(4): 407-418. doi:10.1016/0077-7579(93)90057-Y

Ysebaert, T., P. Meire, J. Coosen and K. Essink. – 1998. Zonation of intertidal macrobenthos in the estuaries of Schelde and Ems. Aquat. Ecol., 32: 53-71. doi:10.1023/A:1009912103505

Ysebaert, T., L. De Neve and P. Meire. – 2000. The subtidal macrobenthos in the mesohaline part of the Schelde Estuary (Belgium): influenced by man? J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. U.K., 80: 587-597. doi:10.1017/S002531540000240X

Ysebaert, T. and P.M.J. Herman. – 2002. Spatial and temporal variation in benthic macrofauna and relationships with environmental variables in an estuarine, intertidal soft-sediment environment. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., 244: 105-124. doi:10.3354/meps244105

Ysebaert, T., P. Meire, P.M.J. Herman and H. Verbeek. – 2002. Macrobenthic species response surfaces along estuarine gradients: prediction by logistic regression. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., 225: 79-95. doi:10.3354/meps225079

Ysebaert, T., P.M.J. Herman, P. Meire, J. Craeymeersch, H. Verbeek and C.H.R. Heip. – 2003. Large-scale spatial patterns in estuaries: estuarine macrobenthic communities in the Schelde estuary, NW Europe. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 57: 335-355. doi:10.1016/S0272-7714(02)00359-1

Copyright (c) 2009 Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Contact us

Technical support