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Evidence of population-level impacts and resiliency for Gulf of Mexico shelf taxa following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

August 2, 2023

The goal of this paper was to review the evidence of population-level impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (DWH) on Gulf of Mexico (GOM) continental shelf taxa, as well as evidence of resiliency following the DWH. There is considerable environmental and biological evidence that GOM shelf taxa were exposed to and suffered direct and indirect impacts of the DWH. Numerous assessments, from mesocosm studies to analysis of biopsied tissue or tissue samples from necropsied animals, revealed a constellation of physiological effects related to DWH impacts on GOM biota, some of which clearly or likely resulted in mortality. While the estimated concentrations of hydrocarbons in shelf waters and sediments were orders of magnitude lower than measured in inshore or deep GOM environments, the level of mortality observed or predicted was substantial for many shelf taxa. In some cases, such as for zooplankton, community shifts following the spill were ephemeral, likely reflecting high rates of population turnover and productivity. In other taxa, such as GOM reef fishes, impacts of the spill are confounded with other stressors, such as fishing mortality or the appearance and rapid population growth of invasive lionfish (Pterois spp.). In yet others, such as cetaceans, modeling efforts to predict population-level effects of the DWH made conservative assumptions given the species’ protected status, which post-DWH population assessments either failed to detect or population increases were estimated. A persistent theme that emerged was the lack of precise population-level data or assessments prior to the DWH for many taxa, but even when data or assessments did exist, examining evidence of population resiliency was confounded by other stressors impacting GOM biota. Unless efforts are made to increase the resolution of the data or precision of population assessments, difficulties will likely remain in estimating the scale of population-level effects or resiliency in the case of future large-scale environmental catastrophes.

Publication Year 2023
Title Evidence of population-level impacts and resiliency for Gulf of Mexico shelf taxa following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
DOI 10.3389/fmars.2023.1198163
Authors W.F. Patterson III, K.L. Robinson, B.K. Barnett, M. Campbell, D.C. Chagaris, J. P. Chanton, K. Daly, D. Hanisko, F. Hernandez, S.A. Murawski, A.G. Pollock, D. Portnoy, Erin L. Pulster
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Marine Science
Index ID 70247802
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Columbia Environmental Research Center