Distinct bacterial communities in surficial seafloor sediments following the 2010 deepwater horizon blowout

Tingting Yang, Kelly Speare, Luke McKay, Barbara J. MacGregor, Samantha B. Joye, Andreas Teske

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31 Scopus citations


A major fraction of the petroleum hydrocarbons discharged during the 2010 Macondo oil spill became associated with and sank to the seafloor as marine snow flocs. This sedimentation pulse induced the development of distinct bacterial communities. Between May 2010 and July 2011, full-length 16S rRNA gene clone libraries demonstrated bacterial community succession in oil-polluted sediment samples near the wellhead area. Libraries from early May 2010, before the sedimentation event, served as the baseline control. Freshly deposited oil-derived marine snow was collected on the surface of sediment cores in September 2010, and was characterized by abundantly detected members of the marine Roseobacter cluster within the Alphaproteobacteria. Samples collected in mid-October 2010 closest to the wellhead contained members of the sulfate-reducing, anaerobic bacterial families Desulfobacteraceae and Desulfobulbaceae within the Deltaproteobacteria, suggesting that the oil-derived sedimentation pulse triggered bacterial oxygen consumption and created patchy anaerobic microniches that favored sulfate-reducing bacteria. Phylotypes of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-degrading genus Cycloclasticus, previously found both in surface oil slicks and the deep hydrocarbon plume, were also found in oil-derived marine snow flocs sedimenting on the seafloor in September 2010, and in surficial sediments collected in October and November 2010, but not in any of the control samples. Due to the relative recalcitrance and stability of polycyclic aromatic compounds, Cycloclasticus represents the most persistent microbial marker of seafloor hydrocarbon deposition that we could identify in this dataset. The bacterial imprint of the DWH oil spill had diminished in late November 2010, when the bacterial communities in oil-impacted sediment samples collected near the Macondo wellhead began to resemble their pre-spill counterparts and spatial controls. Samples collected in summer of 2011 did not show a consistent bacterial community signature, suggesting that the bacterial community was no longer shaped by the DWH fallout of oil-derived marine snow, but instead by location-specific and seasonal factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1384
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberSEP
StatePublished - Sep 13 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
� 2016 Yang, Speare, McKay, MacGregor, Joye and Teske.


  • Bacterial populations
  • Cycloclasticus
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Marine sediment
  • Marine snow


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