Feed and fly - A model study about the relationship between coastal birds and intertidal food webs

sabine.horn [ at ] awi.de


The Wadden Sea is a unique coastal ecosystem and of outstanding importance for millions of coastal birds which use the intertidal area as a major food source. In this study the importance of habitat diversity and the influence of avian predators on the intertidal food web was determined using Ecological Network Analysis. Similarities and differences of the food web structure were analyzed for six different intertidal habitats (i.e. cockle field, razor clam field, mud flat, mussel bank, sand flat, seagrass meadow). All systems were in a good trade-off between their degree of order and their redundancy implying a sustainable system structure and resistance in front of perturbations. But the habitats differed in their detailed features. The cockle field and the mussel bank were characterized by a complex and diverse flow structure while being simultaneously strongly dependent on external phytoplankton imports. Razor clam fields were revealed to be simple but very efficient systems. The studied mud flat appeared to be vulnerable to perturbations due to short and simple pathways and little recycling. The sand flat and the seagrass meadow showed a complex and redundant flow structure and a high recycling indicating independence and resistance. Habitat diversity appears to be an important trait for the Wadden Sea food web as each habitat has a distinct role in the whole ecosystem functioning. Furthermore, the diverse habitats are of great importance for foraging bird which might be specialized to one of the habitats. Birds induce a large impact on the Wadden Sea food web. Due to their various direct and indirect influences, it is likely that changes in the bird population also cause changes in the whole system functioning. A decline in birds results in a decrease of pathway length and a less redundant and diverse flow structure. Birds therefore play an important role in stabilizing the intertidal food web. The holistic approach of Ecological Network Analysis provides fundamental insight in the Wadden Sea food web structure. Results of this thesis are a useful basis to develop management tools and strategies for assessing the ecological state and the health of this unique ecosystem.

Item Type
Thesis (PhD)
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Publication Status
Eprint ID
Cite as
Horn, S. (2016): Feed and fly - A model study about the relationship between coastal birds and intertidal food webs PhD thesis,

[thumbnail of Feed_and_fly_Abstract.pdf]

Download (274kB) | Preview
Cite this document as:

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email

Geographical region

Research Platforms


Edit Item Edit Item