Hydrocarbon contamination affects deep-sea benthic oxygen uptake and microbial community composition

C. E. Main*, H. A. Ruhl, D. O. B. Jones, A. Yool, B. Thornton, D. J. Mayor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


Accidental oil well blowouts have the potential to introduce large quantities of hydrocarbons into the deep sea and disperse toxic contaminants to midwater and seafloor areas over ocean-basin scales. Our ability to assess the environmental impacts of these events is currently impaired by our limited understanding of how resident communities are affected. This study examined how two treatment levels of a water accommodated fraction of crude oil affected the oxygen consumption rate of a natural, deep-sea benthic community. We also investigated the resident microbial community's response to hydrocarbon contamination through quantification of phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs) and their stable carbon isotope (delta C-13) values. Sediment community oxygen consumption rates increased significantly in response to increasing levels of contamination in the overlying water of oil-treated microcosms, and bacterial biomass decreased significantly in the presence of oil. Multivariate ordination of PLFA compositional (mol%) data showed that the structure of the microbial community changed in response to hydrocarbon contamination. However, treatment effects on the delta C-13 values of individual PLFAs were not statistically significant. Our data demonstrate that deep-sea benthic microbes respond to hydrocarbon exposure within 36 h. (C) 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-87
Number of pages9
JournalDeep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers
Early online date7 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance: 27/12/2015

We would like to thank all scientists and crew from the Autonomous Ecological Surveys of the Abyss (AESA) 2012 cruise, Alice Horton for assistance with the experiment at sea, Ben Boorman for design and building of apparatus and Maureen Procée and Gillian Martin for technical assistance and tuition in the laboratory. This work was carried out as part of the SERPENT project www.serpentproject.com. DJM was part-funded by NERC, UK (NE/G014744/1). BT received funding from the Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services Division, UK (RESAS).


  • Benthic respiration
  • experimental incubations
  • PLFA
  • blowout
  • contamination
  • bacteria
  • remineralisation
  • water-accomodated fractions
  • margin Goban Spur
  • Horizon oil-spill
  • Gulf-of-Mexico
  • degrading bacteria
  • marine-sediments
  • fatty-acids
  • mass-spectrometry
  • lipid phosphate
  • organic-matter


Dive into the research topics of 'Hydrocarbon contamination affects deep-sea benthic oxygen uptake and microbial community composition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this