Migratory birds may reveal further impact of oil spill

Aug 01, 2012
A researcher inspects a bird’s wing. Shorebirds are particularly vulnerable to oil spills.

(Phys.org) -- The full impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has yet to reveal itself, say researchers in the Tulane Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. The largest-ever accidental release of oil into marine waters could impact earth’s ecosystems for years to come — and not just along the 650 miles of the northern Gulf of Mexico coastline directly affected by the spill.

“More than one million migratory shorebirds representing 28 species were potentially exposed to Deepwater Horizon oil during their 2010-2011 nonbreeding season,” says Caz Taylor, assistant professor and a population ecologist. “Although only 8.6 percent of the shorebirds trapped from fall 2010 to spring 2011 showed visible signs of oiling, nonlethal effects and degradation of habitat can affect populations in ways that carry over into subsequent seasons.” 

Nonlethal effects on birds could include diminished health, diminished plumage quality, prey and habitat switching, delayed migration and more.

Graduate student Jessica Henkel gently removes a Dunlin (Calidris alpina) out of a mist net in Waveland, Miss. (Photos by Ken Murphy)

All of these setbacks can lead to reduced productivity in breeding shorebirds, which in turn impacts food chains in places far and wide. 

In a study published in the July 2012 issue of the journal BioScience, Taylor and her team call for other researchers to explore the potential consequences of the oil spill in ecosystems where migratory shorebirds breed, such as the Canada Prairies, the Great Plains, the Great Lakes and even the Arctic.

“As our knowledge of migratory connectivity grows, so does our understanding that ecosystem dynamics are not driven entirely by local events but, through migratory animals, can be influenced by events taking place in distant locations,” explains Tulane graduate student Jessica Henkel, the lead author of the paper.

“Migratory provide a system for evaluating the direct and indirect effects of an oil spill on affected habitats and the potential for carryover effects to other ecosystems.”

Explore further: Average temperature in Finland has risen by more than two degrees

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers call for a new direction in oil spill research

Apr 12, 2012

Inadequate knowledge about the effects of deepwater oil well blowouts such as the Deepwater Horizon event of 2010 threatens scientists' ability to help manage and assess comparable events in future, according to an article ...

Recommended for you

Rising anger as Nicaragua canal to break ground

22 hours ago

As a conscripted soldier during the Contra War of the 1980s, Esteban Ruiz used to flee from battles because he didn't want to have to kill anyone. But now, as the 47-year-old farmer prepares to fight for ...

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

Dec 20, 2014

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NotParker
not rated yet Aug 01, 2012
"he full impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has yet to reveal itself"

Translation: "We predicted a megadisaster and nothing happened. Please give us more grant money and we'll make something up."

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.