The Abra alba community is widely spread in the coastal zone of the English Channel and the Southern Bight of the North Sea. The community is located on shallow, fine muddy sands. Its spatial distribution can be broken up into a number of isolated patches (Atlantic French, British and German coast) and one large continuous distribution area (northern France up to the Netherlands). The aim of this study is to investigate the geographical patterns within the macrobenthic A. alba community at different scales: the community's full distribution range (i.e. large scale) and a selected area with a continuous distribution of the A. alba community (i.e. small scale) in relation to structuring environmental variables. Therefore, an analysis of newly collected samples along the Belgian coastal zone was combined with available information on the A. alba community throughout its distribution range. Although the community structure shows a high similarity across the full distribution range of the A. alba community, large- as well as small-scale changes in community composition were observed: the Belgian Continental Shelf (BCS) should be considered as a major transition from the rich southern to the relatively poorer northern distribution area of the A. alba community. At a large scale (i.e. full distribution range), the differences in community structure are expected to result from (1) the specific hydrodynamic conditions in the English Channel (Atlantic ocean waters) and the Southern Bight of the North Sea, with a consequent differential connectivity between the different areas and (2) the climatological and related faunal shift from temperate (English Channel) to boreal conditions (German Bight). At a small scale (i.e. within the continuous distribution area), structural and functional community aspects may result from geographic differences in (1) detrital food availability, related to riverine input and pelagic productivity, along and across the coastline and (2) the amount of suspended matter, impoverishing the A. alba community when excessively available. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.