Shelby counting Spartina alterniflora shoot density and measuring shoot heights during a marsh habitat survey. (Photo credit: Lauren Clance)

Grad Student Ziegler Compares Gulf and East Coast Ecosystems for Predicting Saltmarsh Food Web Responses to Disturbances

Major disturbances such as oil spills can significantly affect populations of vulnerable saltmarsh species, which may result in greater impacts to the overall saltmarsh food web. Shelby Ziegler believes that a better understanding of what saltmarsh predator-prey interactions look like today can help identify changes in the food web following disturbances in the future.

The authors created a salt marsh food web with oil sensitivity ratings for each species or node. Clear circles indicate no data available. Blue, yellow, and red circles depict sensitivity scores of 0, 1, and 2, respectively. Nodes are arranged so that trophic level increases vertically. (Provided by Michael McCann)

Study Identifies Key Species that Influence Marsh Ecosystem Responses to Oiling

Scientists constructed a food web model using data from published studies and their field experiences to understand how specific Louisiana salt marsh organisms influenced ecosystem response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The researchers found that carnivorous fishes were “critically resilient” and likely enhanced food web resilience.

One of many fascinating creatures in the deep Gulf of Mexico is the Melanocetus johnsoni. This anglerfish has a fleshy growth from its head (the esca or illicium) that acts as a lure. (Photo by Dante´ Fenolio)

Discovering Vibrant, Dynamic Life in the Deep Gulf of Mexico

DEEPEND expands knowledge as a restoration tool for the Gulf’s largest ecosystem. Much uncertainty remains about impacts on the deep-sea environment from the 2010 oil spill that erupted more than 5,000 feet below the sea surface. However, knowing what was affected or what may change in the future is particularly difficult with little to no pre-existing knowledge about this obscure ecosystem. Environmental impact assessments of an area require some baseline of what lives and happens there.