The majority of studies on biofilms have focused on autotrophic and bacterial taxa, without considering the potential effects on biofilm grazers. In this work, we investigated the effects of realistic environmental concentrations of zirconium (Zr) on periphyton algal growth and micromeiofauna biodiversity. Glass slides were submerged in a pond for four weeks to colonize biofilms and exposed for four weeks in aquaria to targeted Zr concentrations of 0, 1, and 10 nM, which were monitored over time (average measured concentrations were 0.2 ± 0.1, 0.5 ± 0.3, and 2.9 ± 0.3 nM Zr). The four-week exposure to the highest concentration (3 nM) affected the micromeiofauna structure of biofilms and modified the autotrophic biofilm structure by increasing the proportion of green algae and decreasing the abundance of cyanobacteria and brown algae. Rotifers and the ciliate Aspidisca cicada
appeared to be the most sensitive organisms among the observed micromeiofauna. A toxic effect of Zr on rotifers could explain such results. Indirect effects, such as reduced food availability given the reduced algal growth in the presence of Zr, could also play a role in the changes of micromeiofauna community structure. These results are among the few published data on the effects of Zr.
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