DURHAM, N.H. Communities of microbial organisms -- species such as nematodes, protists and fungi -- on beaches along the Gulf of Mexico changed significantly following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, research from the University of New Hampshire's Hubbard Center for Genome Studies (HCGS) and partners found. The findings, which analyzed marine sediments from five Gulf Coast sites prior to and several months following shoreline oiling, are published in the June 6, 2012, issue of the journal PLoS ONE.
The researchers sampled sites around Dauphin Island, Ala., and Grand Isle, La., just after the Deepwater Horizon spill began but before oil reached the shore, then again several months later, in September 2010.
"In that short time period, we saw a drastic change in the microbial community," says lead author Holly Bik, a postdoctoral researcher at UNH's HCGS when the research was conducted, now at the Genome Center at the University of California, Davis. "We were shocked at how drastic the change was, pre- and post-spill."
Bik and senior author W. Kelley Thomas, director of the HCGS, as well as collaborators from Auburn University and the University of Texas, San Antonio, found that the communities of microbial eukaryotes (organisms not visible to the naked eye whose cells contain nuclei) in the sediments shifted dramatically from highly diverse communities dominated by nematodes "what you would expect on a beach," says Bik -- to an almost exclusively fungal community.
What's more, those post-spill fungi seem to have an appetite for oil. "The fungal taxa that were there were previously associated with hydrocarbons," Bik says, noting that the group of fungi sampled post-spill from the Grand Isle sites are suspected to utilize hydrocarbons and thrive in hostile, polluted conditions that appear to be intolerable for other marine fungi.
The researchers used two parallel methodologies high-throughpu
|Contact: Beth Potier|
University of New Hampshire