Change and recovery of coastal mesozooplankton community structure during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

L. Carassou, F. J. Hernandez, W. M. Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The response of mesozooplankton community structure to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico was investigated using data from a long-term plankton survey off the coast of Alabama (USA). Environmental conditions observed in the study area during the oil spill (2010) were compared to historical observations (2005-2009), to support the contention that variations observed in zooplankton assemblage structure may be attributed to the oil spill, as opposed to natural climatic or environmental variations. Zooplankton assemblage structure observed during the oil spill period (May-August) in 2010 was then compared to historical observations from the same period (2005-2009). Significant variations were detected in assemblage structure in May and June 2010, but these changes were no longer significant by July 2010. The density of ostracods, cladocerans and echinoderm larvae were responsible for most of the differences observed, but patterns differed depending on taxa and months. Many taxa had higher densities during the oil spill year, including calanoid and cyclopoid copepods, ostracods, bivalve larvae and cladocerans, among others. Although this result is somewhat surprising, it is possible that increased microbial activity related to the infusion of oil carbon may have stimulated secondary production through microbial-zooplankton trophic linkages. Overall, results suggest that, although changes in zooplankton community composition were observed during the oil spill, variations were weak and recovery was rapid.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124003
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2014


  • assemblage structure
  • hydrocarbon pollution
  • planktonic communities
  • shallow pelagic ecosystems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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