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Ecological effects of coastal armoring on sandy beaches


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

Jenifer E. Dugan, Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA. E-mail:


Use of coastal armoring is expected to escalate in response to the combination of expanding human populations, beach erosion, and sea level rise along the coasts. To provide a conceptual framework, we developed hypotheses concerning the ecological effects of beach habitat loss associated with coastal armoring. As beaches narrow in response to armoring, dry upper intertidal zones should be lost disproportionately, reducing the habitat types available and the diversity and abundance of macroinvertebrates. Predators, such as shorebirds, could respond to a combination of (i) habitat loss; (ii) decreased accessibility at high tides; and (iii) reduced prey availability on armored beaches. To examine those predictions, zone widths and the distribution and abundance of macroinvertebrates and birds were compared on paired armored and unarmored segments of narrow bluff-backed beaches in southern California. Our results supported the predictions and revealed some unexpected effects of armoring on birds. Dry upper beach zones were lacking and mid-beach zones were narrower (>2 times) year-round on armored segments compared to adjacent unarmored segments. The abundance, biomass and size of upper intertidal macroinvertebrates were also significantly lower on armored segments. Shorebirds, most of which were foraging, responded predictably with significantly lower species richness (two times) and abundance (>3 times) on armored segments. Gulls and other birds (including seabirds), which use beaches primarily for roosting, were also significantly lower in abundance (>4 times and >7 times respectively) on armored segments, an important unexpected result. Given the accelerating pressures on sandy beaches from coastal development, erosion and rising sea levels, our results indicate that further investigation of ecological responses to coastal armoring is needed for the management and conservation of these ecosystems.