The disposal of municipal solid wastes in landfills represents a major threat for aquifer environments at the global scale. The aim of this study was to explore how groundwater geochemical characteristics can influence the microbial community functioning and the potential degradation patterns of selected organic substrates in response to different levels of landfill-induced alterations. Groundwaters collected from a landfill area were monitored by assessing major physical-chemical parameters and the microbiological contamination levels (total coliforms and fecal indicators—Colilert-18). The aquatic microbial community was further characterized by flow cytometry and Biolog EcoPlatesTM
assay. Three groundwater conditions (i.e., pristine, mixed, and altered) were identified according to their distinct geochemical profiles. The altered groundwaters showed relatively higher values of organic matter concentration and total cell counts, along with the presence of fecal indicator bacteria, in comparison to samples from pristine and mixed conditions. The kinetic profiles of the Biolog substrate degradation showed that the microbial community thriving in altered conditions was relatively more efficient in metabolizing a larger number of organic substrates, including those with complex molecular structures. We concluded that the assessment of physiological profiling and functional diversity at the microbial community level could represent a supportive tool to understand the potential consequences of the organic contamination of impacted aquifers, thus complementing the current strategies for groundwater management.
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