Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year One Block Grant - The Alabama Marine Environmental Science Consortium

Project Overview

Assessing the Impact of Oil/Dispersant on Marine Sponges and their Symbiotic Communities

Principal Investigator
The University of Alabama
Department of Biological Sciences
Member Institutions
Auburn University at Montgomery, The University of Alabama, University of Alabama at Birmingham


Marine sponges are known to filter large quantities of seawater (on the order of 100's to 1000's of liters per day).  As sessile organisms, they are likely to demonstrate bioaccumulation of oil and/or dispersant more rapidly than vagile, non-filter-feeding organisms.  Additionally, sponges serve as a host for a wide variety of both prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms.  In some sponges, up to 40% of the biomass is microbial rather than sponge and they provide habitat to a diverse array of endofaunal associates. 

Thus, changes in community composition and gene expression of these 'sentinel' organisms may provide a model system for assessing the impact of oil/dispersants on the ecosystem.   To examine the impact of the oil and/or dispersant on sponges, both field-based studies and laboratory manipulations will be utilized.  Two species of sponges commonly found on drilling platforms will be collected and used to study the resident associated communities (bacterial and eukaryotic endofaunal).

This research was made possible by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.