Shoreline oiling effects and recovery of salt marsh macroinvertebrates from the Oil Spill

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Salt marshes in northern Barataria Bay, Louisiana, USA were oiled, sometimes heavily, in the aftermath of the oil spill. Previous studies indicate that fiddler crabs (in the genus ) and the salt marsh periwinkle ( were negatively impacted in the short term by the spill. Here, we detail longer-term effects and recovery from moderate and heavy oiling over a 3-year span, beginning 30 months after the spill. Although neither fiddler crab burrow density nor diameter differed between oiled and reference sites when combined across all sampling events, these traits differed among some individual sampling periods consistent with a pattern of lingering oiling impacts. Periwinkle density, however, increased in all oiling categories and shell-length groups during our sampling period, and periwinkle densities were consistently highest at moderately oiled sites where aboveground biomass was highest. Periwinkle shell length linearly increased from a mean of 16.5 to 19.2 mm over the study period at reference sites. In contrast, shell lengths at moderately oiled and heavily oiled sites increased through month 48 after the spill, but then decreased. This decrease was associated with a decline in the relative abundance of large adults (shell length 21-26 mm) at oiled sites which was likely caused by chronic hydrocarbon toxicity or oil-induced effects on habitat quality or food resources. Overall, the recovery of facilitated the recovery of fiddler crabs and periwinkles. However, our long-term record not only indicates that variation in periwinkle mean shell length and length-frequency distributions are sensitive indicators of the health and recovery of the marsh, but agrees with synoptic studies of vegetation and infaunal communities that full recovery of heavily oiled sites will take longer than 66 months.

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