, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 505–516 | Cite as

Rapid alterations to marine microbiota communities following an oil spill

  • Brad J. Gemmell
  • Hernando P. Bacosa
  • Ben O. Dickey
  • Colbi G. Gemmell
  • Lama R. Alqasemi
  • Edward J. Buskey


Field data from the first several days after an oil spill is rare but crucial for our understanding of a spill’s impact on marine microbiota given their short generation times. Field data collected within days of the Texas City “Y” oil spill showed that exposure to crude oil can rapidly imbalance populations of marine microbiota, which leads to the proliferation of more resistant organisms. Vibrionales bacteria were up to 48 times higher than background concentrations at the most impacted sites and populations of the dinoflagellate Prorocentrum texanum increased significantly as well. Laboratory microcosm experiments with a natural plankton community showed that P. texanum grew significantly faster under oiled conditions but monocultures of P. texanum did not. Additional laboratory experiments with natural communities from Tampa Bay, Florida showed similar results although a different species dominated, P. minimum. In both cases, tolerance to the presence of crude oil was enhanced by higher sensitivity of grazers led to a release from grazing pressure and allows Prorocentrum species to dominate after an oil spill. The results suggest careful monitoring for Vibrionales and Prorocentrum during future spills would be beneficial given the potential implications to human health.


Oil spill Plankton Dinoflagellates Bacteria Vibrio Prorocentrum 



The authors wish to thank Cammie Hyatt for her efforts in isolating and culturing Prorocentrum. Steven Buschang from the Texas General Land Office, the U.S. Coast Guard District 8, NOAA made sampling possible in the oil spill area. The authors also wish to thank Dr. Antonietta Quigg and the small boat operators at Texas A&M University Galveston who made sampling possible as well as Dr. Zhanfei Liu and Dr. Deana Erdner of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute for providing equipment and facilities for oil and bacterial analyses. This Study was funded by a grant from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (DROPPS II Consortium: ‘Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies’). Data are publically available through the Gulf of Mexico Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at (DOI: 10.7266/N7M043RM).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  2. 2.Marine Science DepartmentUniversity of Texas at AustinPort AransasUSA

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