Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

Ecology of beach wrack in northern New England with special reference to Orchestia platensis


The northern New England beach wrack community with special reference to the cosmopolitan amphipod crustacean, Orchestia platensis, was examined at estuarine and open coastal habitats. Beach wrack was dominated by the plant genera Ascophyllum, Zostera, Spartina and Chondrus, and was most abundant during spring and late summer. Animal community numbers, biomass and frequency in fresh to moderately decomposed wrack were dominated by O. platensis throughout the year at all habitats; oligochaetes and Collembola were also important. The abundance of O. platensis showed high spatial and temporal variability, with low abundance generally associated with decreased amounts of wrack during colder months. An exception was the winter presence of the species at one estuarine habitat, in patchy aggregations within gravel-cobble refuges. The abundance of O. platensis averaged 1280 (0.04 m2)−1, with a maximum of 7040 (0.04 m2)−1. The life cycle of O. platensis is bivoltine, with summer-hatched young reaching maturity within 1 month. Laboratory studies indicate females with up to 4 broods (30 days)−1, averaging 18 eggs brood−1.

Orchestia platensis is omnivorous, eating fresh plant tissue, live oligochaetes, Limulus eggs and diatom ‘fuzz’. The rate of laboratory consumption of algae and Zostera was 0.05 mg plant mg−1 wet body weight day−1. Presumptive predators of O. platensis are juvenile green crab, Carcinus maenus, and the earwig. Anisolabis maritima. The mobility, aggregation and aggressiveness of O. platensis assist the species in establishing and maintaining populations in the rigorous wrack habitat. The general competitive superiority of O. platensis over its congener, O. gammarella, and the co-occurrence of these species on both eastern and western Atlantic shores is discussed.

Publication Date


Journal Title

Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type



Copyright © 1982 Published by Elsevier Ltd.