Microbial community response to seawater amendment in low-salinity tidal sediments

Microb Ecol. 2009 Oct;58(3):558-68. doi: 10.1007/s00248-009-9556-2. Epub 2009 Jul 22.


Rising sea levels and excessive water withdrawals upstream are making previously freshwater coastal ecosystems saline. Plant and animal responses to variation in the freshwater-saline interface have been well studied in the coastal zone; however, microbial community structure and functional response to seawater intrusion remains relatively unexplored. Here, we used molecular approaches to evaluate the response of the prokaryotic community to controlled changes in porewater salinity levels in freshwater sediments from the Altamaha River, Georgia, USA. This work is a companion to a previously published study describing results from an experiment using laboratory flow-through sediment core bioreactors to document biogeochemical changes as porewater salinity was increased from 0 to 10 over 35 days. As reported in Weston et al. (Biogeochemistry, 77:375-408, 62), porewater chemistry was monitored, and cores were sacrificed at 0, 9, 15, and 35 days, at which time we completed terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism and 16S rRNA clone library analyses of sediment microbial communities. The biogeochemical study documented changes in mineralization pathways in response to artificial seawater additions, with a decline in methanogenesis, a transient increase in iron reduction, and finally a dominance of sulfate reduction. Here, we report that, despite these dramatic and significant changes in microbial activity at the biogeochemical level, no significant differences were found between microbial community composition of control vs. seawater-amended treatments for either Bacterial or Archaeal members. Further, taxa in the seawater-amended treatment community did not become more "marine-like" through time. Our experiment suggests that, as seawater intrudes into freshwater sediments, observed changes in metabolic activity and carbon mineralization on the time scale of weeks are driven more by shifts in gene expression and regulation than by changes in the composition of the microbial community.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / genetics
  • Archaea / growth & development*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • DNA, Archaeal / genetics
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Ecosystem
  • Gene Library
  • Geologic Sediments / microbiology*
  • Georgia
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Rivers / microbiology
  • Salinity
  • Seawater / microbiology
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Time Factors
  • Water Microbiology*


  • DNA, Archaeal
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S