The Response of Three Bacterial Populations to Pollution in a Stream

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Microbial Ecology

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Practical methods for biomonitoring of natural systems are still under development. Bacteria are potentially useful indicators of water quality because of their species diversity and ability to rapidly respond to changing environmental conditions. In this study, bacterial populations from unpolluted and polluted stream sites in two watersheds were compared to determine their suitability for use as environmental indicators. Upper Three Runs Creek and Four Mile Creek headwaters have had little anthropogenic disturbance, as opposed to lower Four Mile Creek which received thermal, radio-active, and chemical perturbations. Chemical and physical measurements provided evidence that seepage from holding ponds polluted Four Mile Creek. Polluted sites did not have altered total bacterial numbers but had decreased numbers of colony-forming units. Abundances of three bacterial species, Acinetobacter calcoaceticus, Burkholderia cepacia, and Pseudomonas putida, were determined by colony hybridization with species-specific rDNA probes. Contribution of A. calcoaceticus to the assemblage was higher at polluted sites, which indicated either tolerance of polluted conditions or the ability to utilize compounds existing at these sites to reach larger populations. No differences in B. cepacia populations were detected, and differences in P. putida populations could not be attributed solely to disturbance. The pollution of Four Mile Creek induced differences in bacterial populations that could be monitored using the described approach.