Radio- and Stable Carbon Isotope Analysis Reveals Minimal Assimilation of Petrogenic Carbon Into an Oligotrophic Freshwater Food Web After Experimental Spills of Diluted Bitumen

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Graves, Stephanie
Mason, Johanna
Rodriguez-Gil, Jose Luis
Seguin, Jonathan Y.
Blais, Jules
Hanson, Mark
Hollebone, Bruce P.
Palace, Vince
Clark, Ian
Cundall, Leah
Diluted bitumen , Carbon isotopes , Food web , Biodegradation , Assimilation , Mesocosm
Following an oil spill into water, bacteria can biodegrade petroleum hydrocarbons which could lead to petrogenic carbon assimilation by aquatic biota. We used changes in the isotope ratios of radio- (Δ14C) and stable (δ13C) carbon to examine the potential for assimilation of petrogenic carbon into a freshwater food web following experimental spills of diluted bitumen (dilbit) into a boreal lake in northwestern Ontario, Canada. Different volumes (1.5, 2.9, 5.5, 18, 42, 82, and 180 L) of Cold Lake Winter Blend (a heavy crude blend of bitumen and condensate) dilbit were applied to seven 10-m diameter littoral limnocorrals (approximate volume of 100 m3), and two additional limnocorrals had no added dilbit to serve as controls. Particulate organic matter (POM) and periphyton from oil-treated limnocorrals had lower δ13C (up to 3.2‰ and 2.1‰ for POM and periphyton, respectively) than the control at every sampled interval (3, 6 and 10 weeks for POM and 6, 8 and 10 weeks for periphyton). Dissolved organic and inorganic carbon (DOC and DIC, respectively) had lower Δ14C in the oil-treated limnocorrals relative to the control (up to 122‰ and 440‰ lower, respectively). Giant floater mussel (Pyganodon grandis) housed for 25 days in aquaria containing oil-contaminated water from the limnocorrals did not show significant changes in δ13C values of muscle tissue compared to mussels housed in control water. Overall, the changes in δ13C and Δ14C observed indicated small amounts (up to 11% in DIC) of oil carbon incorporation into the food web. The combined δ13C and Δ14C data provide evidence for minimal incorporation of dilbit into the food web of this oligotrophic lake, suggesting that microbial degradation and subsequent incorporation of oil C into the food web may play a relatively small role in the ultimate fate of oil in this type of ecosystem.