Mutual facilitation between foundation species Mytilus edulis and Lanice conchilega promotes habitat heterogeneity on tidal flats

Janne Nauta*, Kasper J. Meijer, Lissie W. de Groot, Valérie C. Reijers, Tjeerd J. Bouma, Daphne van der Wal, Han Olff, Sander J. Holthuijsen, Allert I. Bijleveld, Henk W. van der Veer, Oscar Franken, Laura L. Govers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Foundation species that modify their habitat can facilitate other species, including other foundation species. Most studies focus solely on a single foundation species, overlooking such facilitation cascades. In this study, we investigated the interactions between the two coastal foundation species Mytilus edulis (blue mussel) and Lanice conchilega (sand mason worm). We investigated whether these species engage in facilitative interactions or if their association simply reflects a shared ecological niche on the soft-sediment intertidal flats of the Dutch Wadden Sea. To do so, we performed species distribution modeling, manipulative field experiments, and field surveys. We found a positive association between both foundation species, with a 2.45 times higher occurrence of both species compared to a random distribution. In addition, these species partially occupied the same ecological niche. We demonstrated that L. conchilega provided settlement substrate for M. edulis spat, increasing densities by 400 times compared to bare plots. Furthermore, M. edulis reefs facilitated L. conchilega occurrence in the wake of the reef. Biogenic reef development revealed that this interspecific facilitation resulted in spatial habitat heterogeneity. Therefore, we conclude that interspecific facilitation can significantly enhance the occurrence of these two important intertidal foundation species. Acknowledgment of such complex facilitation interactions has an untapped potential for improving the success of restoration and conservation programs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1354009
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • ecosystem engineers
  • facilitation
  • foundation species
  • Lanice conchilega
  • mussel
  • Mytilus edulis
  • sand mason worm
  • tidal flats


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