Population Dynamics and Community Composition of Ammonia Oxidizers in Salt Marshes after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Academic Article uri icon


  • The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had significant effects on microbial communities in the Gulf, but impacts on nitrifying communities in adjacent salt marshes have not been investigated. We studied persistent effects of oil on ammonia-oxidizing archaeal (AOA) and bacterial (AOB) communities and their relationship to nitrification rates and soil properties in Louisiana marshes impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Soils were collected at oiled and unoiled sites from Louisiana coastal marshes in July 2012, 2 years after the spill, and analyzed for community differences based on ammonia monooxygenase genes (amoA). Terminal Restriction Fragment Polymorphism and DNA sequence analyses revealed significantly different AOA and AOB communities between the three regions, but few differences were found between oiled and unoiled sites. Community composition of nitrifiers was best explained by differences in soil moisture and nitrogen content. Despite the lack of significant oil effects on overall community composition, we identified differences in correlations of individual populations with potential nitrification rates between oiled and unoiled sites that help explain previously published correlation patterns. Our results suggest that exposure to oil, even 2 years post-spill, led to subtle changes in population dynamics. How, or if, these changes may impact ecosystem function in the marshes, however, remains uncertain.

publication date

  • 2016