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Stressed Out!

Stressed Out!A recent oil spill off the South American coast may have some very damaging long-term effects. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.24.01] Feeling stressed? Humans are not alone; according to a Tufts biology professor, marine iguanas can experience "stressed out" moments too. And the effects can be deadly.

For the last 20 years, Tufts' Michael Romero has been studying the marine iguana population of the Galapagos Islands. When an oil tanker ran aground in January, spilling 750,000 gallons of oils just 15 miles from their research site, Romero and his colleagues gained new insight on the impact of environmental disturbances on the animal population.

Though most of the oil was carried away from the islands by the currents and few of the animals died immediately, Romero's research indicates that the incident may cause long-term damage to the island's animal population.

The culprit may not be the oil itself, but the stress it caused, reports Le Monde -- a leading newspaper in France.

Just days after the spill, Romero's team measured dramatic increases in the iguana's stress hormone levels, reported the Agence France-Presse, a major international news service.

According to Romero's ongoing research, the iguanas are already very sensitive to environmental changes. But the effects appear to have been compounded by the oil spill, which damaged the animal's food supply.

"Even though the oil spill was not necessarily damaging to the Galapagos in the short term, the negative effects on animals existing there will be long lasting and may even be deadly," he said in the Agence France-Presse report.

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