Legacy Metal Contaminants and Excess Nutrients in Low Flow Estuarine Embayments Alter Composition and Function of Benthic Bacterial Communities

Front Microbiol. 2021 Oct 8;12:661177. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2021.661177. eCollection 2021.


Coastal systems such as estuaries are threatened by multiple anthropogenic stressors worldwide. However, how these stressors and estuarine hydrology shape benthic bacterial communities and their functions remains poorly known. Here, we surveyed sediment bacterial communities in poorly flushed embayments and well flushed channels in Sydney Harbour, Australia, using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Sediment samples were collected monthly during the Austral summer-autumn 2014 at increasing distance from a large storm drain in each channel and embayment. Bacterial communities differed significantly between sites that varied in proximity to storm drains, with a gradient of change apparent for sites within embayments. We explored this pattern for embayment sites with analysis of RNA-Seq gene expression patterns and found higher expression of multiple genes involved in bacterial stress response far from storm drains, suggesting that bacterial communities close to storm drains may be more tolerant of localised anthropogenic stressors. Several bacterial groups also differed close to and far from storm drains, suggesting their potential utility as bioindicators to monitor contaminants in estuarine sediments. Overall, our study provides useful insights into changes in the composition and functioning of benthic bacterial communities as a result of multiple anthropogenic stressors in differing hydrological conditions.

Keywords: 16S rRNA; RNAseq; bacteria; estuary; hydrology; multiple stressors; sediment.