Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom

Research Article

The regional recovery of Nucella lapillus populations from marine pollution, facilitated by man-made structures

Simon Braya1, Emily C. McVeana1, Andrew Nelsona2, Roger J.H. Herberta3, Stephen J Hawkinsa4 and Malcolm D. Hudsona1 c1

a1 Faculty of Engineering and Environment, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, Hampshire, SO17 1BJ

a2 Field Studies Council, Nettlecombe Court, The Leonard Wills Field Centre, Williton, Taunton, Somerset, TA4 4HT

a3 School of Conservation Sciences, Christchurch House, Bournemouth University Fern Barrow Talbot, Campus, Poole, Dorset, BH12 5BB

a4 Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, Hampshire SO17 1BJ, UK


The dogwhelk Nucella lapillus experienced localized extinction in the 1980s and 1990s due to the use of tributyltin (TBT) antifoulants, causing imposex in females. The aim of this study was to establish the extent of the return of the species across the mainland coast of central southern England as TBT use has been progressively restricted, and to quantify the extent of imposex impact on the populations present. We surveyed from Poole to Selsey where isolated populations had become extinct, and the Isle of Wight where some populations had persisted. We found evidence that since TBT restrictions, recolonization and colonization by N. lapillus has been rapid. By 2007–2008, of the eleven surveyed mainland sites, seven were colonized, although indications of reduced imposex impacts were mixed. Distribution had also extended on the Isle of Wight and populations were larger with less imposex impact in sites with long term populations. The lack of continuous suitable habitat blocks and the hydrodynamic complexity of the region, leads us to hypothesize that recovery has been facilitated by man-made structures which may be acting as ‘stepping stones’. Populations that have become established on engineered structures such as sea walls, breakwaters and rock groynes demonstrate accelerated recovery in the region as TBT in the environment has generally declined. Sites with suitable substrates and food sources near to ports were either not recolonized or had small populations with imposex evident. For species with a short pelagic larval stage or with direct development, population connectivity between patches of harder substrata along hydrodynamically complex coastlines may be greater than previously thought.

(Received May 19 2011)

(Accepted May 24 2011)

(Online publication September 23 2011)


  • imposex;
  • tributyltin;
  • TBT;
  • dogwhelk Nucella lapillus ;
  • recolonization;
  • sea defences;
  • marine pollution indicator


c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: M.D. Hudson, Faculty of Engineering and Environment, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, Hampshire, SO17 1BJ email: