Distribution and structure of intertidal macrobenthic communities in the Zwin nature reserve, a lagoonal inlet consisting of marsh and tidal flat habitats, was investigated using univariate and multivariate analyses. Macrobenthos community structure was related to environmental characteristics and discussed in the framework of the implemented extension of the nature reserve.
Based on explorative multivariate techniques, five different sample groups (SGs) were distinguished, which were, in general, located in different habitats of the Zwin nature reserve. The ecologically most important SGs consisted of the highest macrobenthic density, diversity and highest densities of Nereis diversicolor and Scrobicularia plana; these important prey species for wading birds and fish occurred in the deep tidal inlet channels. This habitat was characterized by fine to medium sand sediment and strong tidal currents, guaranteeing water renewal at each high tide. Other SGs were found in less and erratically submersed and thus stressed areas (i.e. tidal pond, salt pans and shallow flats). These assemblages were characterized by typical r-strategists (i.e. Capitella capitata and Polydora cornuta) and typical supralittoral, mobile species (i.e. Orchestia gammarellus and Collembola spp.). Being ecologically most important, the extension of wide, tidal creeks should be a prime target within the future development and management of the nature reserve.