Is exposure to Macondo oil reflected in the otolith chemistry of marsh-resident fish?

Paola C. López-Duarte, F. Joel Fodrie, Olaf P. Jensen, Andrew Whitehead, Fernando Galvez, Benjamin Dubansky, Kenneth W. Able

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Genomic and physiological responses in Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis) in the northern Gulf of Mexico have confirmed oil exposure of resident marsh fish following the Macondo blowout in 2010. Using these same fish, we evaluated otolith microchemistry as a method for assessing oil exposure history. Laser-ablation inductively-coupled-plasma mass spectrometry was used to analyze the chemical composition of sagittal otoliths to assess whether a trace metal signature could be detected in the otoliths of F. grandis collected from a Macondo-oil impacted site in 2010, post-spill relative to pre-spill, as well as versus fish from areas not impacted by the spill. We found no evidence of increased concentrations of two elements associated with oil contamination (nickel and vanadium) in F. grandis otoliths regardless of Macondo oil exposure history. One potential explanation for this is that Macondo oil is relatively depleted of those metals compared to other crude oils globally. During and after the spill, however, elevated levels of barium, lead, and to a lesser degree, copper were detected in killifish otoliths at the oil-impacted collection site in coastal Louisiana. This may reflect oil contact or other environmental perturbations that occurred concomitant with oiling. For example, increases in barium in otoliths from oil-exposed fish followed (temporally) freshwater diversions in Louisiana in 2010. This implicates (but does not conclusively demonstrate) freshwater diversions from the Mississippi River (with previously recorded higher concentrations of lead and copper), designed to halt the ingress of oil, as a mechanism for elevated elemental uptake in otoliths of Louisiana marsh fishes. These results highlight the potentially complex and indirect effects of the Macondo oil spill and human responses to it on Gulf of Mexico ecosystems, and emphasize the need to consider the multiple stressors acting simultaneously on inshore fish communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0162699
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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