Microbial communities in karst groundwater and their potential use for biomonitoring
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The structure, diversity and dynamics of microbial communities from a swallow hole draining agricultural land and two connected karst springs (Switzerland) were studied using molecular microbiological methods and related to hydrological and physicochemical parameters. Storm responses and an annual hydrological cycle were monitored to determine the short- and long-term variability, respectively, of bacterial communities. Statistical analysis of bacterial genetic fingerprints (16S rDNA PCR-DGGE) of spring water samples revealed several clusters that corresponded well with different levels of the allochthonous swallow hole contribution. Microbial communities in spring water samples highly affected by the swallow hole showed low similarities among them, reflecting the high temporal variability of the bacterial communities infiltrating at the swallow hole. Conversely, high similarities among samples with low allochthonous contribution provided evidence for a stable autochthonous endokarst microbial community. Three spring samples, representative for low, medium and high swallow hole contribution, were analysed by cloning/sequencing in order to identify the major bacterial groups in the communities. The autochthonous endokarst microbial community was mainly characterized of δ-Proteobacteria, Acidobacteria and Nitrospira species. A high percentage of unknown sequences suggested further that many karst aquifer bacteria are still undiscovered. Finally, the potential use of groundwater biomonitoring using microbial communities is discussed.