The Alabama Center for Ecological Resilience (ACER) Consortium was created to better understand the role biological diversity plays in determining the resilience of nearshore northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystems to impacts from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

One of 12 consortia funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) and led by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab under the direction of Dr. John Valentine, ACER is comprised of 17 research scientists from 9 universities that include the University of South Alabama, University of South Florida, University of Alabama, Siena College, Northeastern University, Louisiana State University, Florida Gulf Coast University and Rutgers University. The consortium is divided into seven integrated research groups focusing on the coastal ecosystems of the northern Gulf of Mexico extending from the mid-continental shelf to inshore oyster reefs and coastal wetlands. These groups are studying nitrogen cycling, the microbial community, microplankton, infauna, oyster reefs, wetlands and predators. The ACER Consortium also includes an education and outreach team and data management personnel.

Starting on their second year of research, ACER scientists are examining the relationship between genetic, taxonomic and functional diversity and ecosystem resilience at several scales and in many different groups of organisms across a gradient of oil exposure. Using both field investigations and large-scale controlled laboratory experiments, several ecological processes (primary productivity, nitrogen cycling, predation) as well as aspects of ecosystem structure (density, biomass, biodiversity) are being measured. Ecosystem services, such as shoreline stabilization, nitrogen removal and habitat provisioning, are also being assessed. Research results will not only allow for an assessment of oil spill impacts, but more generally, may help to predict the impacts of other types of disturbance and the importance of these coastal habitats.

“The Deepwater Horizon disaster highlighted how little we know about how marine organisms, at any stage of their life or trophic position, respond to exposure to oil and its associated contaminants. Until we better understand the effects of this spill on biodiversity, at the genetic, taxonomic and functional levels, we will be unable to develop effective management, recovery and restoration plans following future environmental disasters.”- John Valentine