Thermal stress affects bioturbators' burrowing behavior: A mesocosm experiment on common cockles (Cerastoderma edule)

Zhengquan Zhou*, Tjeerd J. Bouma, Gregory S. Fivash, Tom Ysebaert, Lennart van IJzerloo, Jeroen van Dalen, Bas van Dam, Brenda Walles

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The intensity of marine heatwaves is increasing due to climate change. Heatwaves may affect macroinvertebrates' bioturbating behavior in intertidal areas, thereby altering the deposition-erosion balance at tidal flats. Moreover, small-scale topographic features on tidal flats can create tidal pools during the low tide, thus changing the heat capacity of tidal flats. These pools could then potentially operate as refuge environments during marine heatwaves. We studied behavior responses to heat waves using the well-known bioturbating cockle Cerastoderma edule as a model species. Different temperature regimes (i.e., fluctuating between 20 and 40 °C) and micro-topographies (i.e., presence vs. absence of tidal water pools) were mimicked in a mesocosm experiment with regular tidal regimes. Our results demonstrate that behavioral responses to heat stress strongly depend on the site-specific morphological features. Cockles covered by shallow water pools moved up when exposed to thermal stress, while burrowing deeper into the sediment in the absence of water pools. But in both cases, their migratory behavior increased under heat stress compared to regular ambient treatments. Moreover, long-term cumulative heat stress increased cockles' respiration rates and decreased their health conditions, causing mass mortality after four weeks of gradually increasing heat exposure. Overall, the present findings provide the first insights into how bioturbating behavior on tidal flats may change in response to global warming.

Original languageEnglish
Article number153621
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2022


  • Bioturbators
  • Marine heatwaves
  • Surface sediment temperature
  • Tidal flats
  • Tidal water pools


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