Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures

Assembling the Benthic Record of Species and Community Change for the Gulf of Mexico Following the Deepwater Horizon Event

Event Name/Location

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference / Tampa Bay, Florida

Presentation Date


Document Type

Conference Proceeding




The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) event significantly impacted the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) benthos (>50 m water depth) at different spatial scales and affected all community size hierarchies (microbes, foraminifera, meiofauna, macrofauna, megafauna, corals, benthic fishes). The resilience of these communities was heterogeneous and may take decades to fully recover. In an effort to provide a quantitative synthesis of ecosystem impact, recovery following DWH, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GOMRI) Core 3 synthesis group subdivided the GoM into four ecotypes: coastal, continental shelf, open ocean, and benthic. Here we present a synopsis of the benthic ecotype status and discuss progress made on five tasks: 1) summarizing pre-, post-oil spill trends in abundance, species composition and dynamics; 2) identifying missing data/analyses and propose a strategy to acquire such data; 3) constructing a conceptual model of important species interactions and impacting factors; 4) evaluating resiliency and recovery potential of species; and 5) providing indicators for future ecosystem monitoring programs and reports. To address these tasks, we investigated time series to detect measures of population trends. Moreover, a GoM benthic conceptual model was developed to allow for holistic interpretation of the interrelationships among ecotypes, resources, and stressors. The DWH event exemplifies the overall need for a system-level benthic management decision support tool based on long-term measurement of ecological quality status (EQS). The only way to produce such a decision support tool is to establish temporal baselines from time-series collections. This approach provides EQS for multiple stressors affecting the GoM beyond oil spills. In many cases, time-series collections were initiated through GOMRI (2010-2018). Continued funding of these initiatives from other sources is essential to fill the information gaps identified following the unprecedented DWH deep-sea oil spill.

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