Can sandy beach molluscs show an endogenously controlled circatidal migrating behaviour? Hints from a swash rig experiment


  • Conflict of interest The authors declare no conflict of interests.

Vanagt Thomas, Marine Biology Section, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281, S8 B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.


Many macrofaunal species inhabiting exposed sandy beaches are dependent on the swash for their nutrition and migration and are highly adapted to the harsh physical conditions of the swash. The most important physical factors that determine the distribution and behaviour of swash related fauna, next to the swash itself, are sediment grain size and beach slope. Crucial swash parameters are swash period and swash velocity. Studying the influence of these factors on the animals in the field is often very difficult and it is almost impossible to identify which factor causes what effect. Crucial knowledge about the direct role of the swash itself is lacking. Therefore, a device that generates swash waves on an artificial beach under laboratory conditions was designed: the swash rig. In the swash rig, full and independent control on sediment grain size, beach slope, swash velocity and swash period is present. This will allow us to do a variety of experiments on the influence of each of these factors, independently or combined, on swash fauna. In one such experiment, Olivella semistriata– a dominant surfing gastropod on Ecuadorian sandy beaches – was placed in the swash rig during rising and falling tide and subjected – under constant conditions – to an equal wave regime. During falling tide, and in absence of any tidal cue, almost all specimens moved downshore, as they would in the field; hardly any specimens moved upshore. During upcoming tide, however, there was noticeable upward migration in the swash rig, and half of the runs showed a net upward migration. Contrary to the common understanding that the behaviour of sandy beach molluscs is entirely environmentally driven, this experiment hints at the presence of an endogenous circatidal clock, which is used to direct the tidal migration of the species.