Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Impacts on Salt Marsh Fiddler Crabs (Uca spp.)
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Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Impacts on Salt Marsh Fiddler Crabs (Uca spp.)
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    Estuaries and Coasts, 39(4), 1154-1163.
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  • Description:
    The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the largest marine oil spill in US waters to date and one of the largest worldwide. Impacts of this spill on salt marsh vegetation have been well documented, although impacts on marsh macroinvertebrates have received less attention. To examine impacts of the oil spill on an important marsh invertebrate and ecosystem engineer, we conducted a meta-analysis on fiddler crabs (Uca spp.) using published sources and newly available Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) and Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) data. Fiddler crabs influence marsh ecosystem structure and function through their burrowing and feeding activities and are key prey for a number of marsh and estuarine predators. We tested the hypothesis that the spill affected fiddler crab burrow density (crab abundance), burrow diameter (crab size), and crab species composition. Averaged across multiple studies, sites, and years, our synthesis revealed a negative effect of oiling on all three metrics. Burrow densities were reduced by 39 % in oiled sites, with impacts and incomplete recovery observed over 2010-2014. Burrow diameters were reduced from 2010 to 2011, but appeared to have recovered by 2012. Fiddler crab species composition was altered through at least 2013 and only returned to reference conditions where marsh vegetation recovered, via restoration planting in one case. Given the spatial and temporal extent of data analyzed, this synthesis provides compelling evidence that the Deepwater Horizon spill suppressed populations of fiddler crabs in oiled marshes, likely affecting other ecosystem attributes, including marsh productivity, marsh soil characteristics, and associated predators.
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