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Geohistorical Records Indicate No Impact Of The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill On Oyster Body Size

Gregory P. Dietl, Stephen R. Durham

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Documentation of the near- and long-term effects of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, one of the largest environmental disasters in US history, is still ongoing. We used a novel before-after-control-impact analysis to test the hypothesis that average body size of intertidal populations of the eastern oyster ( Crassostrea virginica ) inhabiting impacted areas in Louisiana decreased due to increased stress/mortality related to the oil spill. Time-averaged death assemblages of oysters were used to establish a pre-spill baseline of body-size structure for four impacted and four control locations along a 350 km stretch of Louisiana's coastline. Post-spill body sizes were then measured from live oysters at each site in order to evaluate the differences in body size between oiled (i.e. impact) and unoiled (i.e. control) locations before and after the spill. Our results indicate that average body size of oysters remained relatively unchanged after the oil spill. There were also no temporal patterns in temperature, salinity or disease prevalence that could have explained our results. Together, these findings suggest that oysters either recovered rapidly following the immediate impact of the DWH oil spill, or that its impact was not severe enough to influence short-term population dynamics of the oyster beds.