Response of estuarine biofilm microbial community development to changes in dissolved oxygen and nutrient concentrations.

Research paper by Andreas A Nocker, Joe Eugene JE Lepo, Linda Lin LL Martin, Richard Allan RA Snyder

Indexed on: 14 Mar '07Published on: 14 Mar '07Published in: Microbial Ecology


The information content and responsiveness of microbial biofilm community structure, as an integrative indicator of water quality, was assessed against short-term changes in oxygen and nutrient loading in an open-water estuarine setting. Biofilms were grown for 7-day periods on artificial substrates in the Pensacola Bay estuary, Florida, in the vicinity of a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) outfall and a nearby reference site. Substrates were deployed floating at the surface and near the benthos in 5.4 m of water. Three sampling events covered a 1-month period coincident with declining seasonal WWTP flow and increasing dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in the bottom waters. Biomass accumulation in benthic biofilms appeared to be controlled by oxygen rather than nutrients. The overriding effect of DO was also seen in DNA fingerprints of community structure by terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) of amplified 16S rRNA genes. Ribotype diversity in benthic biofilms at both sites dramatically increased during the transition from hypoxic to normoxic. Terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism patterns showed pronounced differences between benthic and surface biofilm communities from the same site in terms of signal type, strength, and diversity, but minor differences between sites. Sequencing of 16S rRNA gene clone libraries from benthic biofilms at the WWTP site suggested that low DO levels favored sulfate-reducing prokaryotes (SRP), which decreased with rising oxygen levels and increasing overall diversity. A 91-bp ribotype in the CfoI-restricted 16S rRNA gene T-RFLP profiles, indicative of SRP, tracked the decrease in relative SRP abundance over time.