Modelling the effects of an oil spill on open populations of intertidal invertebrates


  • Samantha E. Forde

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
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Present address and correspondence: Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305–5020, USA (e-mail


  • 1Knowledge of the impact of oil spills on coastal communities, in California and elsewhere, is currently limited by a lack of long-term data, the inability to infer causality from monitoring studies, and the necessarily limited spatial and temporal scales of experimental studies.
  • 2This study therefore used a modelling approach to investigate the combined effects of different intensities of an oil spill and recruitment variation on a barnacle Chthamalus fissus population. The methodology and results are likely to apply to any similarly open marine populations with dispersive larval forms.
  • 3The model consisted of a source population comprising individuals that reproduced based on size and probability of mortality. Larvae from the source population entered a larval pool. A proportion of the larvae from the larval pool recruited to a focal population within the region.
  • 4The model was used to assess the effects on recruitment to the focal population of (i) the size structure of the source population, (ii) the intensity of oil spills in the source population, and (iii) recruitment intensity to the focal population.
  • 5Differences in the size structure of the source population had little effect on the reproductive output of the population relative to the intensity of the oil spill. Similarly, the intensity of the oil spill had a stronger influence on recruitment to the focal population than the size structure of the source population. Size structure of the source population was important, however, when evaluating the seasonal trajectory of the focal population.
  • 6Modelling provides a format in which questions about the effects of human impacts can be addressed that would be intractable using experiments. The results of this model suggest that recruitment variation, along with the processes underlying recruitment variation, are critical to predicting the effects of disturbance on open marine populations.