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Long term biological Effects of petroleum residues on fiddler crabs in salt marshes

Author(s): Culbertson JB, Valiela I, Peacock EE, Reddy CM, Carter A, et al.

Abstract

In September 1969, the Florida barge spilled 700,000 L of No. 2 fuel oil into the salt marsh sediments of Wild Harbor (Buzzards Bay, MA). Today the aboveground environment appears unaffected, but a substantial amount of moderately degraded petroleum still remains 8–20 cm below the surface. The salt marsh fiddler crabs, Uca pugnax, burrow into the sediments at depths of 5–25 cm, and are chronically exposed to the spilled oil. Behavioral studies conducted with U. pugnax from Wild Harbor and a control site, Great Sippewissett marsh, found that crabs exposed to the oil avoided burrowing into oiled layers, suffered delayed escape responses, lowered feeding rates, and achieved lower densities. The oil residues are therefore biologically active and affect U. pugnax populations. Our results add new knowledge about long-term consequences of spilled oil, a dimension that should be included when assessing oil-impacted areas and developing management plans designed to restore, rehabilitate, or replace impacted areas.

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