RAPID Response Measuring Ecological Effects of Oil Spill Grant

RAPID Response Measuring Ecological Effects of Oil Spill .


  • As of June 2010, the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico continues to dump oil and dispersants into the sea, and the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current has picked up this oil and is transporting it south to the tropical/subtropical coastal ecosystems of south Florida. The Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research (FCE-LTER) program in south Florida includes open water, seagrass and mangrove habitats that could receive oil. Mangrove forests and seagrass beds, and the faunal communities they support, are exceedingly sensitive to damage from oil spills. Oil is directly toxic to marine plants, and mangroves are sensitive to smothering and death when oil slicks wash ashore. The food webs of these coastal communities are highly sensitive to toxic compounds in oil, and impacted seagrass animal communities can be altered for many years after a spill. Given the susceptibility of the ecosystems of the FCE to oil spills, significant oil reaching this well-studied system could drastically alter the distribution of the marine communities, the structure of the food web, and the cycling of organic matter for years or decades after the spill. In this project, the investigators will measure hydrocarbon concentrations and food web structure at sites that may be directly impacted by the oil spill before the oil reaches them, and assess how these factors change following the arrival of oil. The researchers will test the hypotheses that 1) oil pollution shortens food chain length in coastal ecosystems, and 2) food web structure will be differentially affected in seagrass beds, where the primary producers are less sensitive to hydrocarbon pollution, compared to mangrove forests where the primary producers are killed by oil.The ecological disaster playing out in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill is underscoring the importance that a sustainable costal ecosystem has in supporting the social and economic integrity of the human population in the region. This work will improve future oil spill clean-up efforts by defining the effects of oil-derived compounds on the structure and function of the food webs that support the important economic and cultural infrastructure of the region. Further, the FCE is located within the boundaries of Everglades National Park, an important natural resource; this work will document the extent of impact on the greater Everglades ecosystem by the oil spill.

date/time interval

  • August 1, 2010 - December 31, 2011

sponsor award ID

  • 1048458