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Ecosystem engineers

Constructed oyster reef 

Much of present-day coastal infrastructure offers perspectives not only to protect the coast, but also to create suitable habitats for certain ecosystems. This can be beneficial, as natural ecosystems can contribute significantly to coastal protection and provide other services. Moreover, most ecosystems, as opposed to traditional hard structures, are able to adapt to (relative) sea-level rise. ‘Ecosystem engineers’, i.e. species that influence their own habitat, form complex structures in the subtidal and intertidal zone and can provide sustainable shoreline or shoal edge protection. To successfully include ecosystem engineers in coastal protection, certain requirements have to be met for establishment and sustainable growth. Examples are requirements on hydrodynamic conditions, water quality, soil characteristics, light availability, etc., but also biological preconditions (e.g. connectivity to other or similar ecosystems). Parts of these requirements can be engineered or fostered through human intervention, while others cannot.


Mangrove forest

Ecosystem engineers are organisms (plants or animals) whose presence or activity alters its physical surroundings or changes the flow of resources, thereby creating or modifying habitats and influencing all associated species (Jones et al. 1994, 1997). Many ecosystems are greatly affected by ecosystem engineering species. Given the highly physical nature of the estuarine and coastal environment, organisms that affect the physical structure of these ecosystems can have significant influences on functions and services (e.g., Barbier et al. 2011). A diversity of organisms physically engineer estuarine and coastal ecosystems, including salt marshes, willow tidal forests, mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs and bivalve reefs, kelps.

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Habitat requirements for shellfish

Habitat requirements for mangroves

Habitat requirements for corals

Habitat requirements for shellfishHabitat requirements for mangrovesHabitat requirements for corals

Shellfish reefs can change the near-bed flow and

dissipate wave energy on intertidal flats, thereby

influencing sediment transport, erosion and deposition.

Mangrove forests that dissipate wave energy

in the intertidal zone and influence erosion

and sedimentation.

Coral reefs can acts as natural shoreline protection,

but the health of coral communities depend on a

range of highly-linked environmental variables.


Habitat requirements for seagrassHabitat requirements for salt marshes 
Habitat requirements for seagrassHabitat requirements for salt marshes 

Seagrass meadows that change the near-bed flow

and dissipate wave energy in shallow water, thereby

influencing sediment transport, erosion and deposition.

Salt marshes form natural  barriers for coastal

defence due to wave reduction and can adapt

to sea level rise.






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