The Utility of Stable and Radioisotopes in Fish Tissues as Biogeochemical Tracers of Marine Oil Spill Food Web Effects

  • William F. Patterson IIIEmail author
  • Jeffery P. Chanton
  • David J. Hollander
  • Ethan A. Goddard
  • Beverly K. Barnett
  • Joseph H. Tarnecki


Direct exposure to petroleum compounds was widely reported for a variety of taxa following the DWH. Evidence of exposure ranged from oiling of skin, shells, or feathers, depending on the taxa, to observation of ingested oil in small translucent, invertebrates, to biomarkers of petroleum compounds within an organism’s tissues, such as PAHs in the hepatopancreas of invertebrates or the liver of fishes, or metabolic products of PAH catabolism in the bile of various vertebrate taxa. Development of natural biogeochemical tracers to examine indirect effects, especially over long (months to years) time scales, can be much more problematic. In this chapter, we describe the utility of employing stable isotopes and radioisotopes to 1) examine whether food web effects can be inferred from shifts in stable isotope values measured in vertebrate taxa; 2) examine the assimilation and trophic transfer of petrocarbon in marine food webs; and, 3) serve as long-term biogeochemical tracers either of petrocarbon assimilation or trophic shifts that are indicative of food web effects of marine oil spills. Data and analyses are largely drawn from DWH-related studies but with broader implications to marine oil spills in general.


Petrocarbon Reef fish Stable isotopes Radiocarbon 



Reef fish samples described herein were collected during cooperative research with for-hire recreational fishermen in the nGoM. We thank Captains Johnny Greene, Gary Jarvis, Sean Kelley, and Seth Wilson for their contributions, as well as numerous volunteers who helped procure samples. We thank Miaya Glabach and Samantha Bosman for processing samples for δ13C and Δ14C analysis and Sue Handwork, Kathy Elder, and Ann McNichol at WHOI-NOSAMS and Alexander Cherkinsky at UGA-CIAS for δ13C and Δ14C analysis.

Funding Information

In addition to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) funding through the C-IMAGE consortium, this research was also made possible by grants from the Florida Institute of Oceanography, a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and a grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. All data presented herein are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC): and


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • William F. Patterson III
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jeffery P. Chanton
    • 2
  • David J. Hollander
    • 3
  • Ethan A. Goddard
    • 3
  • Beverly K. Barnett
    • 1
    • 4
  • Joseph H. Tarnecki
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Florida, Fisheries and Aquatic SciencesGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Florida State University, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric ScienceTallahasseeUSA
  3. 3.University of South Florida, College of Marine ScienceSt. PetersburgUSA
  4. 4.National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Panama City LaboratoryPanama CityUSA

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