Watershed Urbanization Alters the Composition and Function of Stream Bacterial Communities
by Si-Yi Wang, Elizabeth B. Sudduth, Matthew D. Wallenstein, Justin P. Wright, Emily S. Bernhardt
Watershed urbanization leads to dramatic changes in draining streams, with urban streams receiving a high frequency of scouring flows, together with the nutrient, contaminant, and thermal pollution associated with urbanization. These changes are known to cause significant losses of sensitive insect and fish species from urban streams, yet little is known about how these changes affect the composition and function of stream microbial communities. Over the course of two years, we repeatedly sampled sediments from eight central North Carolina streams affected to varying degrees by watershed urbanization. For each stream and sampling date, we characterized both overall and denitrifying bacterial communities and measured denitrification potentials. Denitrification is an ecologically important process, mediated by denitrifying bacteria that use nitrate and organic carbon as substrates. Differences in overall and denitrifying bacterial community composition were strongly associated with the gradient in urbanization. Denitrification potentials, which varied widely, were not significantly associated with substrate supply. By incorporating information on the community composition of denitrifying bacteria together with substrate supply in a linear mixed-effects model, we explained 45% of the variation in denitrification potential (p-value<0.001). Our results suggest that (1) the composition of stream bacterial communities change in response to watershed urbanization and (2) such changes may have important consequences for critical ecosystem functions such as denitrification.
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