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Contact: Christine Payton July 7, 2010
(337) 482-6397, payton@louisiana.edu
Looking for more experts on the BP oil spill? Click here.
An $185,608 RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation will help two UL Lafayette biology professors determine the impact of the BP Oil Spill on the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem.

Dr. Darryl FelderDrs. Darryl Felder and Suzanne Fredericq will lead two expeditions in the Gulf to revisit banks and pinnacles where offshore seaweeds and macrocrustaceans have previously been documented. The two, along with undergraduate and graduate students, will collect more samples then make a comparison.

“ We believe the results of the new inventory will reflect which organisms are sensitive to oil pollution and which have the potential to subsequently recover,” said Fredericq.

The two professors documented a diverse range of algae and crustaceans from the Gulf’s hard banks about 60 to 90 meters (roughly 180-280 feet) deep during NSF-funded expeditions from 2004 through 2006. They will visit the same banks.

“Our main concern is understanding the extent to which these hydrocarbons have been introduced to the food chain in the Gulf and the effects this may have on biodiversity,” said Felder, co-author of Gulf of Mexico Origin, Waters and Biota: Volume 1, Biodiversity. This comprehensive reference book of marine biology is being used a baseline for scientists studying the oil spill effects. “We’re going to try to quantify what impact, if any, the oil spill has had and is having on the ecosystem.”

Dr. Suzanne FredericqFredericq explained an impact on algae could have a trickle down effect. “Marine algae are the principal producers of oxygen in the marine ecosystem, and their die-off may affect the entire food chain and result in the expansion of an already existing ‘dead zone’ throughout the Gulf,” she said.

In addition to oil leaking from the Gulf floor, the researchers are also concerned with ill effects of dispersants and dispersant-oil emulsions on organisms.

“ While many immediate and direct visible effects of the oil spill onshore are visually dramatic, the long-term damage to the health of the ecosystem may be extremely nefarious for deep-water organisms,” the researchers wrote in their grant proposal.

All material collected from each trip will be sorted, identified and the associated information will be entered into web-accessible databases. The electronic databases will ultimately link all organisms from a collection site and include information such as species name, key characters, life history and reproductive information, DNA information and organism vitality assessment.

Felder and Fredericq plan to resubmit a four-year proposal to NSF that builds on this project and previous ones. This would allow the teams to more comprehensively retrace and resample earlier routes.

They expect to head to the Gulf in November.


About UL Lafayette
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is the second largest university in the state, with over 16,000 students. It’s a public institution that awards bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. It includes diverse offerings from the humanities to scientific research and leads the nation in areas like computer science, biology and nursing. Its student-athletes – Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns – compete in NCAA Division I, the highest level of collegiate competition.

Document last revised Wednesday, July 7, 2010 4:03 PM

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