The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster was the most catastrophic offshore oil spill in U.S. history, yet we still have a poor understanding of how organisms could evolve in response to the toxic effects of crude oil. This study offers a rare analysis of how fitness-related traits could evolve rapidly in response to crude oil toxicity. We examined evolutionary responses of populations of the common copepod Eurytemora affinis residing in the Gulf of Mexico, by comparing crude oil tolerance of populations collected before versus after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. In addition, we imposed laboratory selection for crude oil tolerance for ~8 generations, using an E. affinis population collected from before the oil spill. We found evolutionary increases in crude oil tolerance in the wild population following the oil spill, relative to the population collected before the oil spill. The post-oil spill population showed increased survival and rapid development time in the presence of crude oil. In contrast, evolutionary responses following laboratory selection were less clear; though, development time from metamorphosis to adult in the presence of crude oil did become more rapid after selection. We did find that the wild population, used in both experiments, harbored significant genetic variation in crude oil tolerance, upon which selection could act. Thus, our study indicated that crude oil tolerance could evolve, but perhaps not on the relatively short time scale of the laboratory selection experiment. This study contributes novel insights into evolutionary responses to crude oil, in directly examining fitness-related traits before and after an oil spill, and in observing evolutionary responses following laboratory selection.
Keywords : adaptation;Macondo Prospect;pollution;polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons;quantitative genetics;toxicity;WAF;water-soluble fraction;zooplankton