Perspectives and predictions on the microbial ecology of the hyporheic zone

  • Storey R
  • Fulthorpe R
  • Williams D
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1. Studies of hyporheic microbial ecology have suggested an important role for hyporheic microbial processes in stream ecosystem functioning. Using evidence from microbial communities in other aquatic habitats, some predictions are made concerning the diversity of microbial types and microbial processes likely to occur in the hyporheic zone, and the relative importance of these various types to the hyporheic ecosystem. 2. It is predicted that the biofilm growth form of interstitial micro-organisms will create a variety of microniches, allowing coexistence of a great diversity of microbial types, and promoting the activity of some otherwise poor competitors. It is further predicted that the confluence of reduced groundwaters and aerobic surface waters will favour chemolithotrophic processes in the hyporheic zone, but that these will contribute significantly to hyporheic production only if surface water is very low in dissolved organic carbon, or the groundwater is extremely reduced, such as by the influence of riparian wetlands. A variety of anaerobic respiratory pathways, such as nitrate, ferric ion, sulphate and even methanogenic respiration will be employed in the hyporheic zone, with biofilm dynamics permitting these to occur even in aerobic sediments. Anaerobic pathways may account for a significant proportion of total hyporheic organic matter mineralization. 3. The role of fungi in hyporheic dynamics is, as yet, almost completely unstudied. However, it is expected that they will be important in breaking down buried particulate organic matter (POM), which may account for a large proportion of total stream POM. 4. Physicochemical conditions in hyporheic sediments appear to be highly heterogeneous, and this heterogeneity may be very important in the cycling of certain nutrients, especially nitrogen, which involves a series of steps requiring different conditions. 5. Various new techniques are now available by which biofilm dynamics and in situ microbial processes may be measured. Studies are recommended of intact microbial communities both at the microscale of the biofilm and at the scale of the heterogeneities occurring in hyporheic sediments. Studies are needed that measure actual rates of microbial processes under in situ conditions.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Anaerobic fungi
  • Bacteria
  • Biofilm
  • Chemolithotrophy
  • Hyporheic zone
  • Microbial ecology

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  • Richard G. Storey

  • R. R. Fulthorpe

  • D. D. Williams

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