Scientists Find Lasting Effects on Animals Proceeding Oil Spill
By: Mason Andre
After studying how historical oil spills have affected many species physiologically and ecologically, scientists Dr. Christine Burns, Dr. Jill Olin, Dr. Stefan Woltmann, Dr. Phil Stouffer and Dr. Sabrina Taylor find linkage between vertebrate’s demography and the BP oil spill of 2010. The research done by these scientists is conveyed in the current issue of BioScience in an article entitled Effects of Oil on Terrestrial Vertebrates: Predicting Impacts of the Mancondo Blowout.
In the same way scientists test food and drug products on animals to predict their outcome with human use, this new research starts to show there could be a connection with the negative effects oil has on terrestrial vertebrates and what it could do to humans. Whether it’s fertility, nesting habits, population size or death rates, the research done has proven there is very possibly a link in the habitual patterns of terrestrial vertebrates living along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Over two years of field work indicates the short and long term effects of oil on the skin, ingested through the mouth and passed on maternally has limited the fitness and health of specific vertebrates.
The animals studied in specific are the seaside sparrow and the marsh rice rat. The article notes “These species are likely to play an important ecological role as some of the top consumes in this ecosystem.” These animals are very prevalent in the Louisiana marsh environments and therefore are the easiest and best indicators of lifestyle changes in terrestrial vertebrates living in the same marshes. Over a period of time the fitness levels, population density changes and fertility have been studied, and there have been obvious changes since the BP oil spill.
These methods have been employed in the past with different oils spills and animal species. There is hinting that similar effects could apply to human beings as well. The article reads “…humans living and working in coastal area may be exposed via routes similar to those of other vertebrates in close and consistent contact with the oiled sediment.” Using what the scientists already knew about animals being impacted by the oil, they were able to determine which differences to note while studying the ecosystem and how the oil changed it, resulting in changes in species native to this habitat. Studying the seaside sparrow and marsh rice rat led them to find not only changes in the behaviors in individual birds and rats but also impacts on the entire community of them. Following the oil spill these species have had to move habitats leading to greater competition and possible die off of a good percentage of the species. Moving habitats not only affects that species of bird or rat but also the neighboring species which are now being intruded by the moving groups of vertebrates.
While indicative research has suggested that the oil spill has affected these two species in many, negative ways, there are of course alternate reasons for some of the adverse effects being studied. Louisiana’s coast is slowly deteriorating for reasons other than the BP oil spill, and this alone has impacted many species and ecosystems in negative ways. The research for this is ongoing, and time with long term studies will reveal more specifically the causes of the decline in health and population of these individual species.
It’s well known that the oil spill killed and damaged fish and the local ecosystem in 2010, but this research opens new doors to the actual damage, and shows us how widespread and far beyond the immediate coast the oil spill may have impacted.
The research done by Dr. Christine Burns, Dr. Jill Olin, Dr. Stefan Woltmann, Dr. Phil Stouffer and Dr. Sabrina Taylor was funded by BP, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to the Coastal Waters Consortium, and by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Image credit: Seaside Sparrow. Flickr.com: By Billtacular