MEPS 576:125-134 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12084

Avoidance of oil contaminated sediments by estuarine fishes

Charles W. Martin*

Department of Oceanography Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA Present address: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Nature Coast Biological Station, Cedar Key, FL 32625, USA
*Corresponding author:
Advance View was available online March 8, 2017; subsequently updated May 2, 2017

ABSTRACT: The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and subsequent discharge of hydrocarbons into the Gulf of Mexico is the largest oil spill that has affected US waters. To date, studies of ecological effects on coastal fishes have produced complex results. While laboratory studies indicate that oil has widespread, pervasive impacts on fish physiology, field assessments often document few impacts to fish abundance and biomass following a spill. The dichotomy of such results suggests that negative individual-level effects do not translate to population/community-level consequences. One explanation for this discrepancy is that mobile organisms may avoid oil, which was very patchily distributed. Here, I present the results of experiments using 3 estuarine fishes (gulf killifish Fundulus grandis, sailfin molly Poecilia latipinna, and sheepshead minnow Cyprinodon variegatus) to determine whether behavioral avoidance occurs at a range of concentrations (0, 10, 20, and 40 ml oil l-1 of sediment) and weathering (fresh or weathered oil) scenarios. All 3 species avoided medium (35, 18, 10% of trial time, respectively) and high concentrations of fresh oil (30, 20, and 15%, respectively), while time spent over contaminated sediments at low concentrations of fresh oil was higher (30, 40, and 40%, respectively). Weathered crude elicited no significant avoidance behavior, with fish occupying between 40 and 60% of the trial period over these sediments, regardless of concentration. This research highlights the heretofore unrecognized role of behavior in fish resilience, as well as the need for future studies to incorporate ecologically relevant weathering rates. Such results are critical to the successful management of motile resources, such as estuarine fishes, in response to anthropogenic disasters such as oil spills.


KEY WORDS: Salt marsh · Gulf of Mexico · Fish ecology · Experiment · Avoidance behavior · Oil contamination · Oil spill · Deepwater Horizon · Macondo


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Cite this article as: Martin CW (2017) Avoidance of oil contaminated sediments by estuarine fishes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 576:125-134. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12084

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