Salt marshes are important ecosystems whose plant and microbial communities can alter terrestrially derived pollutants prior to coastal water discharge. However, knowledge regarding relationships between anthropogenic pollutant levels and salt marsh microbial communities is limited, and salt marshes on the West Coast of the United States are rarely examined. In this study, we investigated the relationships between microbial community composition and 24 pollutants (20 metals and 4 organics) in two California salt marshes. Multivariate ordination techniques were used to assess how bacterial community composition, as determined by terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism and phospholipid fatty acid analyses, was related to pollution. Sea urchin embryo toxicity measurements and plant tissue metabolite profiles were considered two other biometrics of pollution. Spatial effects were strongly manifested across marshes and across channel elevations within marshes. Utilizing partial canonical correspondence analysis, an ordination technique new to microbial ecology, we found that several metals were strongly associated with microbial community composition after accounting for spatial effects. The major patterns in plant metabolite profiles were consistent with patterns across microbial community profiles, but sea urchin embryo assays, which are commonly used to evaluate ecological toxicity, had no identifiable relationships with pollution. Whereas salt marshes are generally dynamic and complex habitats, microbial communities in these marshes appear to be relatively sensitive indicators of toxic pollutants.
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