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Marine Habitat Classification

Description of biotope or habitat type

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   Sabellaria spinulosa on stable circalittoral mixed sediment

Physical habitat description

Salinity Full (30-35 ppt)
Wave exposure Moderately exposed, Sheltered
Tidal streams Strong (3-6 kn), Moderately strong (1-3 kn)
Substratum Mixed sediment of sandy mud, muddy sand with gravel pebbles and cobbles
Zone Circalittoral
Depth Band 10-20 m, 20-30 m
Other Features

Biotope origin

Derived using data from Various
Faunal group Epifauna/infauna

Download comparative physical and biological data. The comparative tables enable a rapid comparison of the species composition and principal physical characteristics between a given set of biotopes.

Distribution of habitat SS.SBR.PoR.SspiMx <I>Sabellaria spinulosa</I> on stable circalittoral mixed sediment

  • Records used to define the biotope (core records)
  • Other records assigned to this biotope, marked as 'certain'
  • Other records assigned to this biotope, marked as 'uncertain'
  • Predicted extent of the level 3 (for sublittoral rock & deep sea) or 4 (for sublittoral sediment) habitat

Point data based on records in the UK Marine Recorder Snapshot. Predicted habitat extent is from UKSeaMap.


The tube-building polychaete Sabellaria spinulosa at high abundances on mixed sediment. This species typically forms loose agglomerations of tubes forming a low-lying matrix of sand, gravel, mud and tubes on the seabed. The infauna comprises typical sublittoral polychaete species such as Protodorvillea kefersteini, Pholoe inornata, Harmothoe spp, Scoloplos armiger, Mediomastus fragilis, Lanice conchilega and cirratulids, together with the bivalve Abra alba, and tube building amphipods such as Ampelisca spp. The epifauna comprise a variety of bryozoans including Flustra foliacea, Alcyonidium diaphanum and Cellepora pumicosa, in addition to calcareous tubeworms, pycnogonids, hermit crabs and amphipods. The reefs formed by Sabellaria consolidate the sediment and allow the settlement of other species not found in adjacent habitats leading to a diverse community of epifaunal and infaunal species. The development of such reefs is assisted by the settlement behaviour of larval Sabellaria which are known to selectively settle in areas of suitable sediment and particularly on existing Sabellaria tubes (Tait and Dipper, 1997; Wilson 1929). These reefs are particularly affected by dredging or trawling and in heavily dredged or disturbed areas an impoverished community may be left (e.g. SS.SCS.CCS.Pkef) particularly if the activity or disturbance is prolonged. However, it is likely that reefs of S. spinulosa can recover quite quickly from short term or intermediate levels of disturbance as found by Vorberg (2000). In the case of disturbance from shrimp fisheries, recovery will be accelerated if some of the reef is left intact following disturbance as this will assist larval settlement of the species. Variations of the biotope may appear in sandier sediments, with a lesser extent of reef.


S. spinulosa reefs are often found in areas with quite high levels of natural sediment disturbance.

Temporal variation

In some areas the reefs are periodically destroyed by storm events leading to a cyclical shift in biotopes from SS.SBR.PoR.SspiMx to other biotopes e.g. SS.SCS.CCS.Pkef or SS.SSa.CMuSa.AalbNuc with re-establishment of the Sabellaria colonies in the following year.

Characterising species

Taxon Relative importance of taxon for defining this community (%) % of core records where taxon was recorded Relative frequency %
Sabellaria spinulosa 13 21-40% 34.7
Lanice conchilega 5 1-20% 1.2
Nemertea 5 1-20% 1
Abra alba 4 1-20% 2.5
Pholoe inornata 4 1-20% 0.5
Ampelisca spinipes 4 1-20% 0.5
Lagis koreni 3 1-20% 0.7
Chaetozone zetlandica 3 1-20% 0.4
Eunereis longissima 3 1-20% 0.2
Mediomastus fragilis 2 1-20% 3.8
Harmothoe impar 2 1-20% 1.5
Pisidia longicornis 2 1-20% 1.3
Spiophanes bombyx 2 1-20% 1.1
Protodorvillea kefersteini 2 1-20% 0.7
Amphipholis squamata 2 1-20% 0.5
Hilbigneris gracilis 2 1-20% 0.3
Glycera lapidum 2 1-20% 0.1
Ampelisca diadema 1 1-20% 2
Scoloplos 1 1-20% 1
Ophiura albida 1 1-20% 0.9
Eumida bahusiensis 1 1-20% 0.9
Scalibregma inflatum 1 1-20% 0.6
Kurtiella bidentata 1 1-20% 0.6
Polycirrus 1 1-20% 0.6
Actiniaria 1 1-20% 0.6
Anoplodactylus petiolatus 1 1-20% 0.4
Unciola crenatipalma 1 1-20% 0.4
Achelia echinata 1 1-20% 0.3
Aonides paucibranchiata 1 1-20% 0.3
Caulleriella alata 1 1-20% 0.2
Lepidonotus squamatus 1 1-20% 0.2
Notomastus 1 1-20% 0.2
Myrianida 1 1-20% 0.2
Goniada maculata 1 1-20% 0.1
Eteone longa 1 1-20% 0.1
Urothoe elegans 1 1-20% 0.1
Nephtys caeca 1 1-20% 0.1
Golfingia 1 1-20% 0.1
Nymphon brevirostre 1 1-20% 0.1
Spirobranchus lamarcki 1 1-20% 0.1
Prionospio cirrifera 1 1-20% 0.1

Similar biotopes or habitat types

Sabellaria on rock often with more associated hard substratum species. On sediment Sabellaria changes the habitat.

Classification history of this biotope or habitat type

Classification version Code Habitat name
2015 (15.03) SS.SBR.PoR.SspiMx Sabellaria spinulosa on stable circalittoral mixed sediment
2004 (04.05) SS.SBR.PoR.SspiMx Sabellaria spinulosa on stable circalittoral mixed sediment
1997 (97.06) SS.CMX.SSpiMx Sabellaria spinulosa and Polydora spp. on stable circalittoral mixed sediment

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