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Long-term direct and indirect effects of the ‘Exxon Valdez’ oil spill on pigeon guillemots in Prince William Sound, Alaska
Golet, G.H.; Seiser, P.E.; McGuire, A.D.; Roby, D.D.; Fischer, J.B.; Kuletz, K.J.; Irons, D.B.; Dean, T.A.; Jewett, S.C.; Newman, S.H. (2002). Long-term direct and indirect effects of the ‘Exxon Valdez’ oil spill on pigeon guillemots in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 241: 287-304
In: Marine Ecology Progress Series. Inter-Research: Oldendorf/Luhe. ISSN 0171-8630, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Golet, G.H.
  • Seiser, P.E.
  • McGuire, A.D.
  • Roby, D.D.
  • Fischer, J.B.
  • Kuletz, K.J.
  • Irons, D.B.
  • Dean, T.A.
  • Jewett, S.C.
  • Newman, S.H.

    We conducted a study to determine mechanisms constraining population recovery of pigeon guillemots Cepphus columba following the 1989 ‘Exxon Valdez’ oil spill. We asked whether recovery was limited by continuing exposure to residual oil, reduced prey availability, or other causes. Our approach was to compare demographic, physiological, and behavioral parameters between an oiled site pre- and post-spill, and between the oiled site and an unoiled site post-spill. Adult mass, body condition, and nestling survival were significantly lower at the oiled site post-spill compared to pre-spill. After the spill, guillemots increased in number at the unoiled site and chicks fledged at significantly heavier weights than at the oiled site, where populations remained depressed. Elevated hepatic cytochrome P4501A (CYP1A), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) enzyme activities detected in adult guillemots a decade after the spill at the oiled site suggest that continued exposure to residual oil may have limited population recovery, although reduced availability of sand lance, a preferred forage fish, may have also played a role. Previous studies conducted at the oiled site demonstrated that guillemot chick growth and reproductive success were positively related to the percentage of high-lipid forage fishes, such as sand lance, in the chick diet. Aspects of sand lance life history and the pattern of ‘Exxon Valdez’ oil deposition strongly suggest that sand lance were impacted by the spill, although we lack direct evidence of this, and reductions in this species’ abundance may have also resulted from natural causes. Our study suggests that the recovery of a top-level generalist predator may be constrained by both direct effects (continued exposure to residual oil) and indirect effects (reduced availability of a key prey species) following a large-scale perturbation. Furthermore, it demonstrates that recovery following oil spills may take considerably longer for certain species than the few years that have been proposed as typical for marine birds.

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