Impacts and recovery of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on vegetation structure and function of coastal salt marshes in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Qianxin Lin, Irving A Mendelssohn
Environmental Science & Technology 2012 April 3, 46 (7): 3737-43
We investigated the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill on two dominant coastal saltmarsh plants, Spartina alterniflora and Juncus roemerianus, in the northern Gulf of Mexico and the processes controlling differential species-effects and recovery. Seven months after the Macondo MC 252 oil made landfall along the shoreline salt marshes of northern Barataria Bay, Louisiana, concentrations of total petroleum hydrocarbons in the surface 2 cm of heavily oiled marsh soils were as high as 510 mg g(-1). Heavy oiling caused almost complete mortality of both species. However, moderate oiling impacted Spartina less severely than Juncus and, relative to the reference marshes, had no significant effect on Spartina while significantly lowering live aboveground biomass and stem density of Juncus. A greenhouse mesocosm study supported field results and indicated that S. alterniflora was much more tolerant to shoot oil coverage than J. roemerianus. Spartina recovered from as much as 100% oil coverage of shoots in 7 months; however, Juncus recovered to a much lesser extent. Soil-oiling significantly affected both species. Severe impacts of the Macondo oil to coastal marsh vegetation most likely resulted from oil exposure of the shoots and oil contact on/in the marsh soil, as well as repeated oiling events.

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