Until now, the story of the worst Southern California oil spill in decades has been told by gut-wrenching images oil-soaked birds, dying fish and fouled wetlands. However, these images reveal just part of the story, researchers say.
Although much of the public’s attention has focused on what may happen to future generations of whales, porpoises, seals, sea turtles and migratory birds, the emphasis of many researchers now has shifted toward the minuscule and mysterious ecosystem that scientists call the microbiome.
It is a vast menagerie of small and microscopic organisms that comprise the foundation of the food web in coastal marine ecosystems. It starts with zooplankton adrift in turgid currents and bacterial colonies in mudflats, rock crevices and canopies of kelp and meadows of eel grass undulating in the tidal surges. Then come single-celled animals that feed on the colonies, and the larger predators that in turn feed on them.