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The greenhead horse fly, Tabanus nigrovittatus Macquart, is frequently found in coastal marshes of the Eastern United States. The greenhead horse fly larvae are top predators in the marsh and thus vulnerable to changes in the environment, and the adults potentially are attracted to polarized surfaces like oil. Therefore, horse fly populations could serve as bioindicators of marsh health and toxic effects of oil intrusion. In this study, we describe the impact of the April 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on tabanid population abundance and genetics as well as mating structure. Horse fly populations were sampled biweekly from oiled and unaffected locations immediately after the oil spill in June 2010 until October 2011. Horse fly abundance estimates showed severe crashes of tabanid populations in oiled areas. Microsatellite genotyping of six pristine and seven oiled populations at ten polymorphic loci detected genetic bottlenecks in six of the oiled populations in association with fewer breeding parents, reduced effective population size, lower number of family clusters and fewer migrants among populations. This is the first study assessing the impact of oil contamination at the level of a top arthropod predator of the invertebrate community in salt marshes.

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Scientific Reports