Open Access

Spatial and temporal distributions of contaminant body burden and disease in Gulf of Mexico oyster populations: The role of local and large-scale climatic controls

  • E. A. Wilson1,
  • E. N. Powell1,
  • T. L. Wade1,
  • R. J. Taylor1,
  • B. J. Presley1 and
  • J. M. Brooks1
Helgoländer Meeresuntersuchungen46:BF02366055


As part of NOAA's Status and Trends Program, oysters were sampled from 43 sites throughout the Gulf of Mexico from Brownsville, Texas, to the Florida Everglades from 1986 to 1989. Oysters were analysed for body burden of a suite of metals and petroleum aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the prevalence and intensity of the oyster pathogen,Perkinsus marinus, and condition index. The contaminants fell into two groups based on the spatial distribution of body burden throughout the Gulf. Arsenic, selenium, mercury and cadmium were characterized by clinal reduction in similarity with distance reminiscent of that followed by mean monthly temperature and precipitation. Zinc, copper, PAHs and silver showed no consistent geographic trend. Within local regions, industrial and agricultural and use andP. marinus prevalence and infection intensity frequently correlated with body burden. Contaminants and biological attributes followed one of three temporal trends. Zinc, copper and PAHs showed concordant shifts over 4 years throughout the eastern and southern Gulf. Mercury and cadmium showed concordant shifts in the northwestern Gulf. Selenium, arsenic, length, condition index andP. marinus prevalence and infection intensity showed concordant shifts throughout most of the entire Gulf. Concordant shifts suggest that climatic factors, the El Niño/Southern Oscillation being one example, exert a strong influence on biological attributes and contaminant body burdens in the Gulf. Correlative factors are those that probably affect or indicate the rate of tissue turnover and the frequency of reproduction; namely, temperature, disease intensity, condition index and length.