, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 20-35

Microbial Community Composition and Ecology of an Acidic Aquatic Environment: The Tinto River, Spain

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We studied the correlation between physicochemical and biological characteristics of an acidic river, the Tinto River, in Southwestern Spain. The Tinto River is an extreme environment characterized by its low pH (mean of 2.2) and high concentrations of heavy metals (Fe 2.3 g/L, Zn 0.22 g/L, Cu 0.11 g/L). These extreme conditions are the product of the metabolic activity of chemolithotrophic microorganisms, including iron- and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria, that can be found in high concentrations in its waters. The food chain in the river is very constrained and exclusively microbial. Primary productivity in the Tinto River is the sum of photosynthetic and chemolithotrophic activity. Heterotrophic bacteria and fungi are the major decomposers and protists are the major predators. A correlation analysis including the physicochemical and biological variables suggested a close relationship between the acidic pH values and abundance of both chemolithotrophic bacteria and filamentous fungi. Chemolithotrophic bacteria correlated with the heavy metals found in the river. A principal component analysis of the biotic and abiotic variables suggested that the Tinto River ecosystem can be described as a function of three main groups of variables: pH values, metal concentrations, and biological productivity.