Thresholds in marsh resilience to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Date
2016-01-01
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Stillman, Brian
Dixon, Philip
Dixon, Philip
Wobus, Cameron
He, Qiang
Daleo, Pedro
Hughes, Bent
Rissing, Matthew
Willis, Jonathan
Hester, Mark
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Abstract

Ecosystem boundary retreat due to human-induced pressure is a generally observed phenomenon. However, studies that document thresholds beyond which internal resistance mechanisms are overwhelmed are uncommon. Following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, field studies from a few sites suggested that oiling of salt marshes could lead to a biogeomorphic feedback where plant death resulted in increased marsh erosion. We tested for spatial generality of and thresholds in this effect across 103 salt marsh sites spanning ~430 kilometers of shoreline in coastal Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, using data collected as part of the natural resource damage assessment (NRDA). Our analyses revealed a threshold for oil impacts on marsh edge erosion, with higher erosion rates occurring for ~1–2 years after the spill at sites with the highest amounts of plant stem oiling (90–100%). These results provide compelling evidence showing large-scale ecosystem loss following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. More broadly, these findings provide rare empirical evidence identifying a geomorphologic threshold in the resistance of an ecosystem to increasing intensity of human-induced disturbance.

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This article is published as Silliman, Brian R., Philip M. Dixon, Cameron Wobus, Qiang He, Pedro Daleo, Brent B. Hughes, Matthew Rissing, Jonathan M. Willis, and Mark W. Hester. "Thresholds in marsh resilience to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill." Scientific reports 6 (2016): 32520. doi: 10.1038/srep32520.

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