Benthic macroinvertebrates were sampled seasonally in the subtidal and upper and lower swash zones at two sites in each of six nearshore habitat types on the lower west coast of Australia. The habitat types, which differed mainly in the extent of their exposure to wave activity and whether sea grass and/or nearshore reefs were present, had been distinguished quantitatively using values for a suite of seven statistically-selected enduring environmental characteristics (Valesini et al., 2003). The core samples yielded 121 species representing eight phyla, among which the Polychaeta, Malacostraca and Bivalvia were the most speciose classes, contributing ∼38, 23 and 10%, respectively, to the total number of individuals. The total number of species and mean density of macroinvertebrates at the most protected habitat type (1), i.e. 70 and 209·2 individuals 0·1 m−2, respectively, were far greater than in any other habitat type. Habitat type influenced species composition to a greater extent than either zone or season. Furthermore, the extents of the differences among the species compositions of the six habitat types statistically matched the extents of the differences among the values for the suite of enduring environmental characteristics that distinguished each of those habitat types. Overall, the species composition at habitat type 1 was the most distinct, containing five abundant species of polychaetes that were adapted to deposit-feeding in calm waters with high levels of organic material and which were rare in all other habitat types. In contrast, the fauna at the most exposed habitat type was characterized by four crustacean species and a species of bivalve and polychaete, whose mobility and tough external surface facilitated their survival and feeding in turbulent waters. The zonal differences in faunal compositions among habitat types were greatest in the case of the subtidal zone. The faunal compositions differed among zones and seasons only at the most protected habitat type.