First Advisor

Catherine E. de Rivera

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Environmental Sciences and Resources


Environmental Science and Management




Biological erosion, Boring isopod, Burrowing crustacean, Ecosystem engineering, Wood-borers, Marine habitats -- Erosion, Offshore structures -- Erosion, Marine borers, Sphaeromidae



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 155 p.) : ill. (some col.), 1 col. map


Marine bioeroders, borers, and burrowers can have drastic effects to marine habitats and facilities. By physically altering the structure of marine habitats, these organisms may elicit ecosystem-level effects that cascade through the community. While borer damage is typically restricted to a few substratum types, burrowing isopods in the genus Sphaeroma attack a diversity of substrata in tropical and temperate systems. My dissertation examined how boring sphaeromatid isopods affect coastal habitats (saltmarshes, mangroves) and other estuarine substrata as well as marine structures. I used a combination of lab and mensurative field experiments to quantify the effects of boring by isopods and examine how select factors affect the colonization, hence burrowing damage by isopods. I explored these questions primarily using the temperate boring sphaeromatid, Sphaeroma quoianum, as a model organism. My initial lab experiments quantified the per capita erosion rates of S. quoianum in four commonly attacked estuarine substrata. I found marsh banks and Styrofoam substrata were the most affected per capita. I supplemented this lab experiment with a year-long mensurative field experiment examining how erosion rates differ between marshes infested and uninfested by boring isopods. Marshes infested with isopods eroded 300% faster than uninfested marshes. I further examined the boring effects on Styrofoam floats. I compiled surveys and observations and conducted a short experiment to describe how isopods affect Styrofoam floats used in floating docks. I observed dense colonies of isopods attacking floats and expelling millions of plastic particles in the ocean. The boring effects to simulated Styrofoam floats were also affected by seawater temperature. Burrowing effects in Styrofoam floats exhibited a curvilinear relationship with temperature and peaked around 18°C. These results suggest a 1-2°C increase in water temperature could increase boring effects 5-17% of populations of isopods in Oregon and California bays. To examine the small-scale factors that mediate colonization and boring, I conducted a series of binary choice experiments. I found the presence of conspecifics, biofilm, and shade were important factors influencing colonization. These small scale factors likely explain why isopod attack is focused in some substrata. Finally, to examine the boring effects of tropical isopods in mangroves, I examined the associations between burrowing by S. terebrans and mangrove performance and fecundity. I found negative relationships between boring effects and performance and fecundity in two mangrove species in a restored mangrove stand in Taiwan. Together, these studies elucidate the effects of bioerosive isopods on saltmarshes, mangroves, and marine structures. However, the similar mechanisms involved in bioerosion in other boring species suggest that these results can be used to infer similar effects of other borers. In addition, since many species of sphaeromatid isopods have been introduced, this research shows how the effects of a non-native bioeroder can damage marine facilities and degrade and alter marine habitats. Through biological erosion and thus changing the physical structure of a marine habitat these non-native species can have ecosystem-level effects that cascade throughout the local community.


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Portland State University. Dept. of Environmental Science and Management

Persistent Identifier