Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Biology (Integrative Biology)

Major Professor

Brad J. Gemmell, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Susan S. Bell, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kendra Daly, Ph.D.


Clearance Rates, Chemical Dispersant, Crude Oil, Larval Kinematics, Settlement, Oysters, Sublethal Effects


Oil spills in the marine environment can threaten vulnerable ecosystems that support ecologically and economically significant organisms, such as the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica), in coastal habitats. The use of chemical dispersant (Corexit 9500) was applied as a cleanup effort in response to the Deepwater Horizon blowout to minimize crude oil slicks, but also resulted in increased concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the water column. The effects of increased soluble fractions of crude oil and dispersant components may be harmful to marine organisms. This study aimed to investigate possible sublethal impacts to the eastern oyster at multiple life history stages in order to understand potential implications on performance at an organismal, population, and ecosystem levels. Specifically, this study addressed 1) veliger swimming, 2) pediveliger settlement rates, 3) pollutant induced larval inactivity and 4) adult clearance rates after acute exposures to relevant concentrations (10 – 100 µL L-1) of water accommodated fractions of crude oil (WAF) and with a combination of chemical dispersant (CEWAF). No significant differences were observed in any tested swimming kinematics between controls and WAF or CEWAF treatments after 24 hour exposures for early staged veligers at concentrations up to 100 µL L-1 WAF and CEWAF. However, settlements rates of competent pediveligers were significant decreased compared to control (52.1 % s.d. 1.66) rates at concentrations of 50 µL L-1 WAF (30.9% s.d. 6.16) and 10 (41.2 % s.d. 0.857) and 50 (22.0% s.d. 1.23) µL L-1 CEWAF. Later staged larvae also showed increased vulnerability to oil pollution given that a higher percentage of organisms were inactive (48.3% s.d. 4.80) compared to early staged larvae (12.7% s.d. 7.68 ) after initial exposure at 50 µL L-1 CEWAF. Based on this result, we assumed effects of oil pollution were not manifested until the later larval life history stage evident by metamorphosis failure during the complex settlement transformation that results in reduced spat and eventually reduced adult oysters.

Adult oysters were also exposed to increasing concentrations of WAF and CEWAF for 24 hours and feeding experiments were conducted in both clean seawater and the same oiled seawater conditions as their initial exposure. Oysters fed in oiled seawater had decreased clearance rates, but oysters fed in clean water had increased clearance rates, suggesting feeding efficiency can be returned to control rates when moved to the presence of clean water. However, our long term study conducted in clean seawater suggested of the oysters exposed to crude oil only (9.31 L h-1 g-1 s.d. 2.04) are able to return to clearance rates comparable to controls (7.69 L h-1 g-1 s.d. 1.89) after the 33 day time period but oysters exposed to crude oil with a combination of chemical dispersant (2.12 L h-1 g-1 s.d. 1.08) were not. Decreased feeding efficiency can have negative impacts on water quality in estuarine ecosystems that support productive habitats. Understanding the impacts of crude oil, and crude oil with a combination of chemical dispersant on ecologically significant organisms can aid in future oil spill response decisions in order to minimize environmental impacts.