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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 536:39-54 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11451

Recovery of salt marsh benthic microalgae and meiofauna following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill linked to recovery of Spartina alterniflora

J. W. Fleeger1,*, K. R. Carman1,2, M. R. Riggio1, I. A. Mendelssohn3, Q. X. Lin3, A. Hou4, D. R. Deis5, S. Zengel6

1Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA
2Department of Biology, University of Nevada-Reno, Reno, Nevada 89557, USA
3Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA
4Department of Environmental Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA
5Atkins, 7406 Fullerton St., Jacksonville, Florida 32256, USA
6Research Planning, Inc. (RPI), 247 E. 7th Ave., Tallahassee, Florida 32303, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We examined the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on benthic microalgae and meiofauna in Louisiana, USA, salt marshes. Further, we quantified recovery over 4 yr and compared it to recovery of the dominant salt marsh macrophyte Spartina alterniflora. Although impacts were apparent at lightly and moderately oiled sites, negative effects on microalgal biomass and meiofaunal abundance and diversity were strongest in heavily oiled marshes where almost complete mortality of S. alterniflora occurred. However, these metrics, as well as photosynthetic pigment composition and meiofauna community composition, indicated substantial recovery ~36 mo post-spill, coincident with recovery of S. alterniflora stem density, even in heavily oiled marshes. Meiofaunal diversity (as measured by copepod species richness) in the earliest stages of recovery was highest where recovering S. alterniflora stems were most dense, and overall, meiofauna recovery was more closely linked to S. alterniflora than to vegetative recovery per se. However, for the polychaete Manayunkia aestuarina, ostracods and kinorhynchs, recovery was still ongoing 4 yr after the spill. These findings suggest that the important ecological services provided in support of food webs by benthic microalgae (a principal basal food resource) and meiofauna (a principal consumer of benthic microalgae and dietary resource to higher trophic levels) largely returned coincident with the recovery of S. alterniflora. S. alterniflora may therefore be a good indicator for the broader recovery of salt marsh infaunal benthos, at least in marshes without accelerated shoreline erosion induced by oiling.


KEY WORDS: Deepwater Horizon oil spill · Meiofauna · Benthic microalgae · Salt marsh · ∙ Spartina alterniflora


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Cite this article as: Fleeger JW, Carman KR, Riggio MR, Mendelssohn IA and others (2015) Recovery of salt marsh benthic microalgae and meiofauna following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill linked to recovery of Spartina alterniflora. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 536:39-54. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11451

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