Where land meets sea: Intertidal areas as key-habitats for sharks and rays

Guido Leurs*, Brian O. Nieuwenhuis, Thije J. Zuidewind, Nadia Hijner, Han Olff, Laura L. Govers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
31 Downloads (Pure)


Abstract Intertidal habitats (i.e. marine habitats that are (partially) exposed during low tide) have traditionally been studied from a shorebird-centred perspective. We show that these habitats are accessible and important to marine predators such as elasmobranchs (i.e. sharks and rays). Our synthesis shows that at least 43 shark and 45 ray species, of which 54.5 use intertidal habitats. Elasmobranchs use intertidal habitats mostly for feeding and as refugia, but also for parturition and thermoregulation. However, the motivation of intertidal habitat use remains unclear due to limitations to observe elasmobranch behaviour in these dynamic habitats. We argue that elasmobranch predators can play an important role in intertidal food webs by feeding on shared resources during high tide (i.e. ‘high-tide predators’), which are accessible and also consumed by terrestrial or avian predators during low tide (i.e. ‘low-tide predators’). In addition, elasmobranchs are able to change the bio-geomorphology of intertidal habitats by increasing habitat heterogeneity due to feeding activities and may also alter resource availability for other consumers. We discuss how the ecological role of elasmobranchs in intertidal habitats is being affected by the continued overexploitation of these species, and conversely, how the global loss of intertidal areas poses an additional threat to an already vulnerable taxonomic group. We conclude that studies on intertidal ecology should include both low-tide (e.g. shorebirds) and high-tide (e.g. elasmobranchs) predatory guilds and their ecological interactions. The global loss of elasmobranch predatory species and intertidal habitat provides additional compelling arguments for the conservation of these areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-426
Number of pages20
JournalFish and Fisheries
Issue number3
Early online date21-Feb-2023
Publication statusPublished - May-2023


  • coastal ecology
  • elasmobranchs
  • fisheries
  • food web
  • littoral
  • species interactions

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