Physiological response of 10 phytoplankton species exposed to macondo oil and the dispersant, Corexit. Academic Article uri icon


  • Culture experiments were conducted on ten phytoplankton species to examine their biological and physiological responses during exposure to oil and a combination of oil and dispersant. The species tested included a range of taxa typically found in the Gulf of Mexico such as cyanobacteria, chlorophytes, and diatoms. Cultures were exposed to Macondo surrogate oil using the water accommodated fraction (WAF), and dispersed oil using a chemically enhanced WAF (CEWAF) and diluted CEWAF, to replicate conditions following the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A range of responses were observed, that could broadly class the algae as either "robust" or "sensitive" to oil and/or dispersant exposure. Robust algae were identified as Synechococcus elongatus, Dunaliella tertiolecta, two pennate diatoms Phaeodactylum tricornutum and Navicula sp., and Skeletonema grethae CCMP775, and were largely unaffected by any of the treatments (no changes to growth rate or time spent in lag phase relative to controls). The rest of the phytoplankton, all centric diatoms, exhibited at least some combination of reduced growth rates or increased lag time in response to oil and/or dispersant exposure. Photophysiology did not have a strong treatment effect, with significant inhibition of photosynthetic efficiency (Fv /Fm ) only observed in the CEWAF, if at all. We found that the effects of oil and dispersants on phytoplankton physiology were species-dependent, and not always detrimental. This has significant implications on how oil spills might impact phytoplankton community structure and bloom dynamics in the Gulf of Mexico, which in turn impacts higher trophic levels.

published proceedings

  • J Phycol

altmetric score

  • 5.1

author list (cited authors)

  • Bretherton, L., Williams, A., Genzer, J., Hillhouse, J., Kamalanathan, M., Finkel, Z. V., & Quigg, A.

citation count

  • 36

editor list (cited editors)

  • Mock, T.

publication date

  • January 2018