The Combined Effects of Salinity, Hypoxia, and Oil Exposure On Survival and Gene Expression in Developing Sheepshead Minnows, Cyprinidon variegatus

Document Type


Publication Date



Ocean Science and Technology


The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill released approximately 780 million liters of crude oil contaminating coastal habitats from Texas to Florida which are important habitats for many fish species during early life stages. These diverse habitats are also prone to rapid fluctuations in water quality, such as dissolved oxygen concentration and salinity. The consequence of combined exposure to crude oil and suboptimal environmental conditions during early life stage development of fish is still largely unknown. The objective of this project was to investigate the impacts of exposure to crude oil in combination with varying environmental stressors on developing Cyprinodon variegatus survival, growth, and gene expression. Three life stages (embryonic, post-hatch, and post-larval) were exposed to four nominal concentrations (6.25%, 12.5%, 50% and 100% with actual polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations ranging from 0 – 512 µg/L) of high energy water accommodated fractions (HEWAF) under different oxic (2.0 or >5.0 mg/L) and salinity (10 or 30 ppt) regimes at 30 °C for 48 hours. We found that the post-larval developmental stage was the most sensitive to oil toxicity. Median lethal concentrations during the post-larval exposures followed a treatment-dependent pattern with the highest mortality observed under hypoxic-high salinity conditions (64.55 µg/L). Real-time PCR analysis identified down regulation of target genes, encoding cytochrome P450-1α (cyp1a1), erythropoietin (epo), and the aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator (arnt1) only when oil exposure occurred under hypoxic-high salinity conditions in treatments with PAH concentrations greater than 226 µg/L. The target genes measured in this experiment are involved in the aryl hydrocarbon receptor signaling pathway which modulates metabolism of PAHs (a major component of crude oil), and the hypoxia inducible 1-α signaling pathway which is responsible for resilience to hypoxic stress, and it is known that disruption of these pathways can lead to an array of acute and chronic effects. Our results indicated that sheepshead minnow are most sensitive to oil exposure during the post-larval developmental stage. Survival data from this age-stage also indicate that oil toxicity response is exacerbated in hypoxic and high salinity environments. The increased mortality observed during the post-larval developmental stage might be attributed to the suppression of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor signaling and the hypoxia inducible 1-α signaling pathways which is evident in by the down-regulated expression of cyp1a1, epo, and arnt1. These findings provide more information about interactions between oil and abiotic factors which enable us to make better assumptions of the ecological impacts of DWH on coastal estuaries.

Publication Title

Aquatic Toxicology

Find in your library