Aquifers are typically perceived as rather stable habitats, characterized by low biogeochemical and microbial community dynamics. Upon contamination, aquifers shift to a perturbed ecological status, in which specialized populations of contaminant degraders establish and mediate aquifer restoration. However, the ecological controls of such degrader populations, and possible feedbacks between hydraulic and microbial habitat components, remain poorly understood. Here, we provide evidence of such couplings, via 4 years of annual sampling of groundwater and sediments across a high-resolution depth-transect of a hydrocarbon plume. Specialized anaerobic degrader populations are known to be established at the reactive fringes of the plume. Here, we show that fluctuations of the groundwater table were paralleled by pronounced dynamics of biogeochemical processes, pollutant degradation, and plume microbiota. Importantly, a switching in maximal relative abundance between dominant degrader populations within the Desulfobulbaceae and Desulfosporosinus
spp. was observed after hydraulic dynamics. Thus, functional redundancy amongst anaerobic hydrocarbon degraders could have been relevant in sustaining biodegradation processes after hydraulic fluctuations. These findings contribute to an improved ecological perspective of contaminant plumes as a dynamic microbial habitat, with implications for both monitoring and remediation strategies in situ.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited