Research Publications: UM-SG-RS-2020-13



Headwater Stream Microbial Diversity and Function across Agricultural and Urban Land Use Gradients




Laperriere, SM; Hilderbrand, RH; Keller, S; Trott, R; Santoro, AE


Applied and Environmental Microbiology
86 ( 11 )




Anthropogenic activity impacts stream ecosystems, resulting in a loss of diversity and ecosystem function; however, little is known about the response of aquatic microbial communities to changes in land use. Here, microbial communities were characterized in 82 headwater streams across a gradient of urban and agricultural land uses using 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing and compared to a rich data set of physicochemical variables and traditional benthic invertebrate indicators. Microbial diversity and community structures differed among watersheds with high agricultural, urban, and forested land uses, and community structure differed in streams classified as being in good, fair, poor, and very poor condition using benthic invertebrate indicators. Microbial community similarity decayed with geodesic distance across the study region but not with environmental distance. Stream community respiration rates ranged from 21.7 to 1,570 mg O-2 m(-2) day(-1) and 31.9 to 3,670 mg O-2 m(-2) day(-1) for water column and sediments, respectively, and correlated with nutrients associated with anthropogenic influence and microbial community structure. Nitrous oxide (N2O) concentrations ranged from 0.22 to 4.41 mu g N2O liter(-1); N2O concentration was negatively correlated with forested land use and was positively correlated with dissolved inorganic nitrogen concentrations. Our findings suggest that stream microbial communities are impacted by watershed land use and can potentially be used to assess ecosystem health. IMPORTANCE Stream ecosystems are frequently impacted by changes in watershed land use, resulting in altered hydrology, increased pollutant and nutrient loads, and habitat degradation. Macroinvertebrates and fish are strongly affected by changes in stream conditions and are commonly used in biotic indices to assess ecosystem health. Similarly, microbes respond to environmental stressors, and changes in community composition alter key ecosystem processes. The response of microbes to habitat degradation and their role in global biogeochemical cycles provide an opportunity to use microbes as a monitoring tool. Here, we identify stream microbes that respond to watershed urbanization and agricultural development and demonstrate that microbial diversity and community structure can be used to assess stream conditions and ecosystem functioning.

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