We assessed the effect of pesticides, especially commonly detected herbicides, on bacterial communities in groundwater. To this end, we used a combined approach with i) triazine-spiked experiments at environmentally relevant concentrations (1 and 10μg/L) in waters with contrasting contamination histories, and ii) in situ monitoring in a rural aquifer, where many additional biotic and abiotic parameters also affect the community. Microbial community was characterized by fingerprinting techniques (CE-SSCP), gene presence (atzA/B/C/D/E/F and amoA genes) and abundance (16S RNA, napA and narG genes). During triazine-spiked experiments, the bacterial community structure in reference water was modified following an exposure to atrazine (ATZ) and/or its metabolite desethylatrazine (DEA) at 1μg/L; in historically-contaminated water, the bacterial community structure was modified following an exposure to 10μg/L ATZ/DEA. Similarly, biodiversity indices and biomass in the reference water appeared affected at lower triazine concentrations than in the historically-contaminated water, though these end-points are less sensitive than the community structure. Our results thus suggest that the history of contamination induced a community tolerance to the tested triazines. ATZ and DEA were not degraded during the experiment and this was consistent with the absence of atz genes involved in their degradation in none of the tested conditions. In field monitoring, triazines that represent a historical and diffuse contamination of groundwater, participate in the microbial community structure, confirming the triazine effect observed under laboratory conditions. Other herbicides, such as chloroacetanilides that are applied today, did not appear to affect the whole community structure; they however induced a slight, but significant, increase in the abundance of nitrate-reducing bacteria. To our best knowledge, this is the first study on the microbial ecotoxicology of pesticides and their metabolites at environmentally relevant concentrations in groundwater.
Keywords: Atrazine; Groundwater; Herbicide; Metabolites; Microbial ecotoxicology.
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