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Marsh Loss Due to Cumulative Impacts of Hurricane Isaac and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in Louisiana

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Coastal ecosystems are greatly endangered due to anthropogenic development and climate change. Multiple disturbances may erode the ability of a system to recover from stress if there is little time between disturbance events. We evaluated the ability of the saltmarshes in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, USA, to recover from two successive disturbances, the DeepWater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and Hurricane Isaac in 2012. We measured recovery using vegetation indices and land cover change metrics. We found that after the hurricane, land loss along oiled shorelines was 17.8%, while along oil-free shorelines, it was 13.6% within the first 7 m. At a distance of 7-14 m, land loss from oiled regions was 11.6%, but only 6.3% in oil-free regions. We found no differences in vulnerability to land loss between narrow and wide shorelines; however, vegetation in narrow sites was significantly more stressed, potentially leading to future land loss. Treated oiled regions also lost more land due to the hurricane than untreated regions. These results suggest that ecosystem recovery after the two disturbances is compromised, as the observed high rates of land loss may prevent salt marsh from establishing in the same areas where it existed prior to the oil spill.

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