CORVALLIS, Ore. Scientists are having a difficult time gauging the recovery of marine species from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico because they lack sufficient data about historical population size and the distribution, growth rates and reproduction rates of many species.
In a forum paper published this week in the journal Science, they call for a new research agenda that prioritizes systematic acquisition of baseline data for marine species.
"It is impossible to diagnose whether a species is recovering or floundering if you don't have good data on their status and trends," said Selina Heppell, an Oregon State University fisheries biologist and one of the authors of the article. "Too much of the funding in this country goes toward putting fires out instead of gaining basic biological information, which is what resource managers need to identify and diagnose changes at the population level.
"This is not just about the Gulf of Mexico," Heppell added. "It is a problem for protected species everywhere."
Heppell, lead author Karen Bjorndal from the University of Florida, and eight other authors point to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, where scientists encountered difficulty evaluating the effects on wildlife because of limited data on abundance and demography the rates of survival, growth and reproduction that are primary indicators of population change.
"Sadly," they wrote, "the situation in the (Gulf of Mexico) is similar more than 20 years later."
Heppell, who is a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University, said doing an ecological and biological assessment of all marine species would be difficult and expensive. Therefore, she says, the emphasis should be on those species that are the most endangered, or those that have an economic impact, such as those creatures that interact with important fisheries.
"We spend millions
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Oregon State University