MEPS:Advance View   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11827

Five years of Deepwater Horizon oil spill effects on marsh periwinkles Littoraria irrorata

Scott Zengel1,*, Jennifer Weaver2, Steven C. Pennings3, Brian Silliman4, Donald R. Deis5, Clay L. Montague6, Nicolle Rutherford7, Zachary Nixon2, Andrew R. Zimmerman8

1Research Planning, Inc. (RPI), Tallahassee, Florida 32303, USA
2Research Planning, Inc. (RPI), Columbia, South Carolina 29201, USA
3Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, Houston, Texas 77204, USA
4Duke University Marine Laboratory, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
5Atkins, Jacksonville, Florida 32256, USA
6Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA
7Emergency Response Division, Office of Response and Restoration, National Ocean Service, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Seattle, Washington 98115, USA
8Department of Geological Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The Deepwater Horizon spill (2010) was the largest marine oil spill in US waters to date and one of the largest worldwide. To examine effects of the oil spill on an important salt marsh species over time, we conducted a meta-analysis on marsh periwinkles Littoraria irrorata using published and unpublished sources spanning more than 5 yr (2010-2015), including newly available Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) and Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) data sets. We tested the hypotheses that the spill decreased mean periwinkle density, reduced mean snail shell length, and changed periwinkle size distribution. Averaged across multiple studies, sites, marsh zones (edge versus interior), and years, our synthesis revealed a negative effect of heavy oiling on periwinkles. Snail densities were reduced by 73% in heavily oiled sites across all study-zone-by-year combinations, including adverse effects for both the oiled marsh edge and oiled marsh interior, with impacts observed over more than 5 yr. Mean periwinkle shell length was somewhat reduced at the oiled marsh edge in a few cases; however, periwinkle size distributions displayed greater relative proportions of smaller adults and sub-adults, and fewer large adults, across all years. Given the spatial and temporal extent of data analyzed, this synthesis provides evidence that the Deepwater Horizon spill suppressed populations of marsh periwinkles in heavily oiled marshes for over 5 yr, and that impacts were ongoing and recovery was incomplete, likely affecting other ecosystem components, including marsh productivity, organic matter and nutrient cycling, marsh-estuarine food webs, and associated predators.


KEY WORDS: Deepwater Horizon · Oil spill · Salt marsh · Marsh periwinkle · Littoraria irrorata · Ecological impacts · Ecological recovery · Gulf of Mexico


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Cite this article as: Zengel S, Weaver J, Pennings SC, Silliman B, Deis DR, Montague CL, Rutherford N, Nixon Z, Zimmerman AR (2016) Five years of Deepwater Horizon oil spill effects on marsh periwinkles Littoraria irrorata. Mar Ecol Prog Ser https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11827

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