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The effects of oil on blue crab and periwinkle snail interactions: A mesocosm study

Robinson, Elizabeth M., Rabalais, Nancy N.
Journal of experimental marine biology and ecology 2019 v.517 pp. 34-39
Callinectes sapidus, Spartina, coatings, crabs, food webs, grazing, marshes, mortality, oil spills, oils, predator-prey relationships, sand, snails, stems, sublethal effects, tanks
We examined the sub-lethal effect of Macondo oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on predator-prey interactions using blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) and periwinkle snails (Littoraria irrorata). A 2 × 2 factorial mesocosm design determined the effect of oil (no oil vs. oil) and blue crabs (no blue crab predator vs. one blue crab predator) on periwinkle snail climbing and survival. Sixteen mesocosm tanks were used in the experiment, which were replicated three times. Each tank contained water, sand, and Spartina marsh stems. The sixteen tanks were divided between two, temperature-controlled chambers to separate oil treatments (no oil vs. oil). Oil was buried in the sand to prevent direct coating of mesocosm organisms. Half of the tanks contained only snails, while the other half contained snails and (one) blue crab in each chamber. Snail climbing behavior and survival were documented every 12 h over 96 h. Snails exposed to oil without a blue crab predator survived as well as snails not exposed to oil and no blue crab predator. Oil reduced snail survival in the presence of a blue crab predator. The increase in snail mortality can be attributed to changes in snail climbing behavior. Oil significantly reduced snail climbing height in the presence and absence of a blue crab predator. This change in behavior and subsequent decrease in snail survival could be beneficial for Spartina during recovery after an oil spill. A decrease in snail populations would reduce grazing stress on Spartina. However, field research immediately after an oil spill would be more useful in determining predator-prey interactions and further food web effects.