Geochemistry and microbial diversity of cave waters in the gypsum karst aquifers of Emilia Romagna region, Italy


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November 2017


Fifty-seven control points of waters (sinking streams, rivers in caves, and resurgences) hosted in gypsum karst areas in Emilia Romagna region (N-Italy) were sampled in the framework of a Project LIFE + 08NAT/IT/000369 “Gypsum” in the period 2010–2014. The microbiology and chemistry of these waters have been analyzed to evaluate the impact of human activities or natural factors, in the gypsum karst systems. Waters have been analyzed for major chemistry (Ca, Mg, Na, K, SO4, HCO3, Cl, NO3) and some minor constituents (F, Br, NH4 and PO4), measuring pH, electric conductivity (EC), total dissolved solids (TDS) and temperature (T) in situ. The same samples have been analyzed with traditional microbiology techniques focused on total microbial count and on fecal microbiota, as index of human and/or animal contamination, and molecular biology techniques (sequencing of 16S rRNA segment and PCR-DGGE), focused on the characterization of microbial populations in the different sampling sites and determination of their variations and/or changes during the five years of the project. As expected, waters tend to be increasingly mineralized from sinking streams to resurgences, with only local and temporarily high contents in nitrates and ammonium, often related to the presence of bat colonies. PCR-DGGE revealed ecological changes, in terms of microbial populations present in the bulk water samples, in different sampling sites within the same cave. Although the impact of fecal microorganisms only rarely exceeded 2 log UFC/ml, the results evidenced fluctuations of these microorganisms mainly correlated to the season and to the biological activity of bats.


Gypsum Karst, Water Geochemistry, Water Microbiology, Pollution, Ecosystem

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Science of The Total Environment, Vol. 598 (2017-11-15).