Habitat Modification and Coastal Protection by Ecosystem-Engineering Reef-Building Bivalves

Tom Ysebaert, Brenda Walles, Judy Haner, Boze Hancock

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Reef-building bivalves like oysters and mussels are conspicuous ecosystem
engineers in intertidal and subtidal coastal environments. By forming complex,
three-dimensional structures on top of the sediment surface, epibenthic bivalve
reefs exert strong bio-physical interactions, thereby influencing local hydro- and morphodynamics as well as surrounding habitats and associated species. The spatial impact of the ecosystem engineering effects of reef-building bivalves is much larger than the size of the reef. By influencing hydrodynamics oysters and mussels modify the sedimentary environment far beyond the boundaries of the reef, affecting morphological and ecological processes up to several hundreds of meters. Being key-stone species in many coastal environments, reef-building bivalves are increasingly recognized for their role in delivering important ecosystem services that serve human wellbeing. Here we focus on two services, namely the regulating service coastal protection (coastal erosion prevention, shoreline stabilization) and the supporting habitat for species service (enhancement of biodiversity and diversification of the landscape). Due to their wave dampening effects, reef-building bivalve reefs are increasingly used for shoreline protection and erosion control along eroding coastlines, as an alternative to artificial shoreline hardening. Thefacilitative interactions at long-distances of bivalve reefs provide biodiversity benefits and more specifically facilitate or protect other valuable habitats such as intertidal flats, sea grasses, saltmarshes and mangroves. Two case studies are used to demonstrate how bivalve reefs can be restored or constructed for shoreline protection and erosion control, thereby focusing on oyster reefs: (1) Oyster reefs for shoreline protection in coastal Alabama, USA, and (2) Oyster reefs as protection against tidal flat erosion, Oosterschelde, The Netherlands. It is argued that bivalve reefs should be promoted as nature-based solutions that provide biodiversity benefits and coastal protection and help in climate change mitigation and adaptation. In order to successfully restore these habitats practitioners should consider a general framework in which habitat requirements, environmental setting and long-distance interdependence between habitats are mutually considered.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGoods and Services of Marine Bivalves
EditorsAad C. Smaal, Joao G. Ferreira, Jon Grant, Jens K. Petersen, Øivind Strand
ISBN (Electronic)9783319967769
ISBN (Print)9783319967752
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2018


  • Coastal protection
  • Ecosystem engineers
  • Ecosystem services
  • Facilitation of habitats
  • Oyster reefs


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