MEPS 576:189-202 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12201

Ecosystem services are lost when facilitation between two ecosystem engineers is compromised by oil

Sean P. Powers1,*, Shahrokh Rouhani2, Mary C. Baker3, Henry Roman4, Jonathan H. Grabowski5, Steven B. Scyphers5, Jonathan M. Willis6, Mark W. Hester

1Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 101 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island, AL 36528, USA
2NewFields, Inc., 1349 W. Peachtree Street, Suite 2000, Atlanta, GA 30309, USA
3National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Assessment and Restoration Division 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115, USA
4Industrial Economics, Inc., 2067 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02140, USA
5Marine Science Center, Northeastern University, 430 Nahant Road, Nahant, MA 01908, USA
6Department of Biology, University of Louisiana, Lafayette, LA 70504, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Nearshore marine ecosystems are among the most productive areas in the world. Unfortunately, these areas also receive pollutants released into oceanic and riverine waters. Six years following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest in US history, the complexity of ecological injuries in this system is just now being elucidated. Here, we describe a novel pathway of injury from oil spills by documenting how the loss of oysters near marsh edge as a direct result of shoreline oiling and clean-up activities can double rates of coastal erosion. As part of the natural resource damage assessment, we examined the impact of shoreline oiling on eastern oysters Crassostrea virginica near the marsh edge at 187 sites in Louisiana and Mississippi Sound in 2013. For marshes that experienced heavy oiling, oyster habitat was 77% less abundant than in areas where no oil was observed. Areas near marshes characterized by more moderate levels of oiling had 33% less oyster habitat than areas where no oil was observed. Similarly, the number of sites without any oyster habitat was higher in heavily and persistently oiled areas compared to areas where no oil was observed (56 vs. 24%). The consequences of this loss are substantial and include loss of essential fish habitat, reduced nutrient cycling, and decreased erosion buffering. For a subset of the sites where erosion rate was also measured between 2010 and 2013 (n = 79), shoreline loss was more than twice as high (2.1 vs. 0.9 m yr-1) in areas lacking oyster cover. Our findings provide evidence that loss of nearshore oyster habitat can disrupt the strong facilitation between oysters and marsh vegetation.


KEY WORDS: Marsh · Oysters · Facilitation · Natural resource damage assessment · Sustainability · Crassostrea virginica · Deepwater Horizon


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Cite this article as: Powers SP, Rouhani S, Baker MC, Roman H and others (2017) Ecosystem services are lost when facilitation between two ecosystem engineers is compromised by oil. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 576:189-202. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12201

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