Breakwaters as habitats for synanthropes: Spatial associations of vertebrates and vegetation with anthropogenic litter

Moisés A. Aguilera, Ariel Rojas, Fabio Bulleri, Martin Thiel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Urban infrastructures can provide ‘novel’ habitats for marine and terrestrial animals and plants, enhancing their ability to adapt to urban environments. In particular, coastal infrastructures characterized by a complex three-dimensional morphology, such as breakwaters, could provide species refuges and food. We investigated the role of breakwaters in providing habitat for vertebrates and plants, and the influence of anthropogenic litter in regulating the value of these structures as habitat. We sampled vertebrate and plant species and quantified the amount of anthropogenic litter on breakwaters and adjacent rocky habitats at several sites in three different countries (Italy, Spain and Chile). We found breakwaters to accumulate more litter items (e.g. especially plastics) than adjacent rocky habitats by means of their large-scale (i.e., 1 m) structural complexity. Birds, which used the artificial infrastructure as transitory habitat, reached similar abundances in breakwaters compared with adjacent rocky platforms. In contrast, synanthropic mammal species, such as Rattus norvegicus and feral cats, were slightly more frequent on breakwaters and appeared to use them as permanent habitat. Plants were frequent in the upper zone of breakwaters and, even though many macrophyte species can trap litter, their cover correlated negatively with anthropogenic litter density. Therefore, breakwaters provide either transitory or permanent habitats for different species, despite functioning as a sink for anthropogenic litter. Thus, new infrastructure should be designed with lower structural complexity in their supralittoral zone limiting the proliferation of synanthropic species. In addition, restricting public access to sensitive areas and enforcing littering fines could enhance the ecological value of these novel habitats by reducing the benefits to pest species.

Original languageEnglish
Article number160753
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Anthropogenic litter
  • Breakwaters
  • Refuges
  • Supralittoral
  • Synanthropes
  • Urban habitats


Dive into the research topics of 'Breakwaters as habitats for synanthropes: Spatial associations of vertebrates and vegetation with anthropogenic litter'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this