Effect of a simulated oil spill on natural assemblages of marine phytoplankton enclosed in microcosms

J. González*, F. G. Figueiras, M. Aranguren-Gassis, B. G. Crespo, E. Fernández, X. A.G. Morán, M. Nieto-Cid

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


Two microcosm experiments were carried out to simulate the effect of sporadic oil spills derived from tanker accidents on oceanic and coastal marine phytoplankton assemblages. Treatments were designed to reproduce the spill from the Prestige, which took place in Galician coastal waters (NW Iberia) in November 2002. Two different concentrations of the water soluble fraction of oil were used: low (8.6 ± 0.7 μg l-1 of chrysene equivalents) and high (23 ± 5 μg l-1 of chrysene equivalents l-1). Photosynthetic activity and chlorophyll a concentration decreased in both assemblages after 24-72 h of exposure to the two oil concentrations, even though the effect was more severe on the oceanic assemblage. These variables progressively recovered up to values close or higher than those in the controls, but the short-term negative effect of oil, which was generally stronger at the high concentration, also induced changes in the structure of the plankton community. While the biomass of nanoflagellates increased in both assemblages, oceanic picophytoplankton was drastically reduced by the addition of oil. Effects on diatoms were also observed, particularly in the coastal assemblage. The response of coastal diatoms to oil addition showed a clear dependence on size. Small diatoms (<20 μm) were apparently stimulated by oil, whereas diatoms >20 μm were only negatively affected by the high oil concentration. These differences, which could be partially due to indirect trophic interactions, might also be related to different sensitivity of species to PAHs. These results, in agreement with previous observations, additionally show that the negative effect of the water soluble fraction of oil on oceanic phytoplankton was stronger than on coastal phytoplankton.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-276
Number of pages12
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 10 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Galicia
  • Prestige
  • microcosms
  • oil spills
  • phytoplankton assemblages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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