Using stream biofilm microbial communities as indicators of freshwater ecosystem health

Author: Lewis, Gillian; Ancion, PY; Lear, G; Roberts, K; Washington, V

Date: 2010-08-23

Type: Conference poster

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The University of Auckland Library


Stream biofilms are a complex aggregation of microorganisms embedded in a polymer matrix and cover almost every surface in freshwater environments. Because of their sedentary way of life, microorganisms associated with biofilms are affected by past and present environmental conditions and therefore constitute a potential integrative indicator of stream health. A wide range of experiments was conducted in both flow chamber microcosms and natural stream environments to investigate the main drivers of microbial community structure and composition and evaluate the potential use of biofilms as a bio-indicator of freshwater ecosystem health. Using community fingerprinting techniques such as terminal-Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism and Automated Ribosomal Intergenic Spacer Analysis as well as 16S rRNA gene clone libraries we investigated variations occurring in biofilm bacterial and ciliate protozoan communities. Initial experiments conducted in flow chamber microcosms showed that significant differences in microbial community structure could be detected within only a few days of exposure to common water contaminants and remained detectable weeks after transfer to uncontaminated water. Further research investigating biofilm of more than 60 stream sites variously impacted by urbanization revealed a strong separation between rural and urban streams and confirmed the potential use of stream biofilm as a bio-indicator of stream health. Environmental monitoring techniques developed in this project were then successfully tested to investigate the efficacy of an enclosed stormwater treatment system, where traditional biological indicators such as macro-benthic invertebrates were not available. We are now extending our research to 300 different streams in order to define a general Bacterial Community Index characterising stream ecosystem health based on the structure of biofilm bacterial communities.

Citation: ["13th International symposium on microbial ecology, ISME 13.. 23 Aug 2010"]