Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus) exhibited unprecedented juvenile recruitment in 2010 during the year of the Deepwater Horizon well blowout, exceeding the prior 39-year mean by more than four standard deviations near the Mississippi River. Abundance of that cohort remained exceptionally high for two subsequent years as recruits moved into older age classes. Such changes in this dominant forage fish population can be most parsimoniously explained as consequences of release from predation. Contact with crude oil induced high mortality of piscivorous seabirds, bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), waders, and other fish-eating marsh birds, all of which are substantial consumers of Gulf menhaden. Diversions of fresh water from the Mississippi River to protect coastal marshes from oiling depressed salinities, impairing access to juvenile Gulf menhaden by aquatic predators that avoid low-salinity estuarine waters. These releases from predation led to an increase of Gulf menhaden biomass in 2011 to 2.4 million t, or more than twice the average biomass of 1.1 million t for the decade prior to 2010. Biomass increases of this magnitude in a major forage fish species suggest additional trophically linked effects at the population-, trophic-level and ecosystem scales, reflecting an heretofore little appreciated indirect effect that may be associated with major oil spills in highly productive marine waters.
|Number of pages||17|
|Journal||Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology|
|Publication status||Published - Jul 2017|