Coastal habitats and their importance for the diversity of benthic communities: A species- and trait-based approach

Christina Henseler*, Marie C. Nordström, Anna Törnroos, Martin Snickars, Lauréne Pécuchet, Martin Lindegren, Erik Bonsdorff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Coastal habitats are used by a great variety of organisms during some or all stages of their life cycle. When assessing the link between biological communities and their environment, most studies focus on environmental gradients, whereas the comparison between multiple habitats is rarely considered. Consequently, trait-based aspects of biodiversity in and between habitats have received little attention. Here, we use the biological trait approach in addition to the more common species-based approach to examine trait and taxonomic diversity and composition of invertebrate and fish communities in different coastal habitats, common in the northern Baltic Sea. The habitats include bladderwrack (Fucus), seagrass (Zostera), rock with associated algal species (Rock), and bare sand (Sand). We found distinct differences in community diversity and composition between the habitats. For invertebrates, the sediment of the seagrass meadow had the highest taxonomic and trait richness and diversity, whereas Sand had the highest for fish. The highest dissimilarity in invertebrate community composition was between epifaunal (Rock, Fucus, Zostera Epifauna) and infaunal habitats (Sand, Zostera Infauna) on the one hand, and between vegetated (Zostera Infauna) and unvegetated sediments (Sand) on the other hand, emphasizing the major role vegetation plays in structuring communities. We demonstrate that fish community composition is distinct based on species, and to a lesser degree also distinct based on traits, in the different studied habitats. Both invertebrate and fish communities were more similar on a trait level than taxonomically among the habitats highlighting the presence of similar trait identities in the different habitats. Among the traits examined, Body size contributed most to dissimilarities among habitats for both invertebrates and fish, pointing out the ecological importance of body size for differentiating trait composition of communities. Based on our assessment of biodiversity, using the biological trait approach parallel to the taxonomic approach, we show that trait-based measures clearly provide additional information, such as key functions present in a habitat. This aspect cannot be captured by solely using taxonomic indices, which only shed light on diversity from a species identity point of view. Consequently, to include the ecological role of species, we recommend using biological traits in addition to species-based measures in the assessment of biodiversity, and especially in the management and conservation of coastal habitats, given the important ecosystem goods and services these areas provide.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106272
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Coastal habitats
  • Biological traits
  • Biodiversity
  • Communities
  • Baltic Sea

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