With funding from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, three University of North Texas biologists are investigating the effects of oil on water and fish species in the Gulf of Mexico.
UNT Associate Professor of Biology Dane Crossley, Associate Professor of Biology Aaron Roberts and Professor of Biology Warren Burggren received $2.7 million in 2015 to begin the three-year project.
Crossley is evaluating how oil impacts the ability juvenile fish to swim, eat and reproduce and is evaluating their capacity to recover from oil exposure. Burggren is evaluating the cardiovascular impact of exposures to components of oil in the very early life stages of Mahi-Mahi and Red Drum. Roberts is researching the chemical breakdown, toxicology and interactions of sunlight and oil in the upper column of the Gulf of Mexico, where many embryos for various species live.
So far the team has confirmed that exposure to crude oil or components of crude oil causes a negative cardiac effect in Mahi-Mahi. As cardiac function goes down, Mahi-Mahi have a more difficult time swimming, eating and reproducing. Red Drum experience different effects, and the team is working to find out how genetics may play a role in the way different species experience different reactions to oil exposure.
"Without data, without evidence of these negative effects, we can only speculate how oil spills might affect different species," Crossley said. "Our work and the work of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative is providing evidence of the impact of oil exposure on species that will help future scientists understand oil spill impacts whether they occur in the Gulf or in other areas of the world."
The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative will be featured on an upcoming "Journey to Planet Earth" documentary on PBS. For more information, visit http://dispatchesfromthegulf.com/journey/.