New reports are surfacing every day about the immediate impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Gulf Coast wildlife, especially as the oil reaches the sensitive marshlands along the coast. But how will these communities be affected over time? Scientists currently know very little about how long it takes for the hydrocarbons and heavy metals in crude oil to work their way through marine food webs. To address this issue, Academy scientist Peter Roopnarine is working with Laurie Anderson from Louisiana State University and David Goodwin from Denison University to collect and analyze three different types of mollusks from the Gulf Coast. These animals are continually building their shells, and if contaminants are present in their environment, they can incorporate those compounds into their shells. Roopnarine and his colleagues will study growth rings in the shells - much like scientists would study tree rings - to determine how quickly harmful compounds from the oil become incorporated into the animals' homemade armor. They will also sample tissues from the animals over the next four months to test for hydrocarbons, and will measure changes in growth rate and survivorship. In addition to its value in informing conservation and policy decisions, this research will have direct implications for the region's commercial oyster fisheries.
"We know that mollusks can capture this kind of information in their shells because of our ongoing work in San Francisco Bay," says Roopnarine, Curator of Geology at the California Academy of Sciences. "We have been analyzing shellfish from across the Bay over the past three years, and we have documented that the animals from the more polluted areas, like the waters around Candlestick Park, have incorporated vanadium and nickel into their shells - two metals that are common in crude oil. It appears that the metals can be substituted for calcium as the animals build their calcium-carbonate shells."
By studying oy
|Contact: Andrew Ng|
California Academy of Sciences