Microbial Ecology

, Volume 68, Issue 1, pp 47–59 | Cite as

Diversity of Benthic Biofilms Along a Land Use Gradient in Tropical Headwater Streams, Puerto Rico

  • Sofía Burgos-CaraballoEmail author
  • Sharon A. Cantrell
  • Alonso Ramírez
Microbiology of Aquatic Systems


The properties of freshwater ecosystems can be altered, directly or indirectly, by different land uses (e.g., urbanization and agriculture). Streams heavily influenced by high nutrient concentrations associated with agriculture or urbanization may present conditions that can be intolerable for many aquatic species such as macroinvertebrates and fishes. However, information with respect to how benthic microbial communities may respond to changes in stream ecosystem properties in relation to agricultural or urban land uses is limited, in particular for tropical ecosystems. In this study, diversity of benthic biofilms was evaluated in 16 streams along a gradient of land use at the Turabo watershed in Puerto Rico using terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism. Diversity indices and community structure descriptors (species richness, Shannon diversity, dominance and evenness) were calculated for both bacteria and eukaryotes for each stream. Diversity of both groups, bacteria and eukaryotes, did not show a consistent pattern with land use, since it could be high or low at streams dominated by different land uses. This suggests that diversity of biofilms may be more related to site-specific conditions rather than watershed scale factors. To assess this contention, the relationship between biofilm diversity and reach-scale parameters (i.e., nutrient concentrations, canopy cover, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen) was determined using the Akaike Information Criterion (AICc) for small sample size. Results indicated that nitrate was the variable that best explained variations in biofilm diversity. Since nitrate concentrations tend to increase with urban land use, our results suggest that urbanization may indeed increase microbial diversity indirectly by increasing nutrients in stream water.


Photosynthetic Active Radiation Urban Land Dissolve Organic Nitrogen Terminal Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism Total Dissolve Nitrogen 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported by the Puerto Rico Alliances for Minority Participation (AMP grant no. HRD-0114586), GK-12 Fellow (NSF 0841338), and the Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research Program (NSF DEB-0620910). Thanks to Rita Cáceres, Angel Santiago, Augustin Engman, Emma Caraballo, and Samuel Burgos that provided field assistance, and Alex E. Mercado-Molina for providing useful comments on the earlier draft. In addition, we thank Sean Kelly and two anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions. We thank W. H. McDowell, University of New Hampshire, for analyzing water and for providing input on their interpretation. Special thanks to the personnel at the Biotechnology lab, at Universidad del Turabo for training and technical assistance, in particular to Dr. Jose Perez-Jimenez, Lisabeth Duval, Carmen Bonilla, and Diana Liz Laureano. Special thanks are given to Miguel Acevedo and Claudia Patricia Ruíz Díaz for their guidance in model construction and evaluation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sofía Burgos-Caraballo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sharon A. Cantrell
    • 2
  • Alonso Ramírez
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of Puerto RicoSan JuanUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversidad del TuraboGuraboUSA
  3. 3.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of Puerto RicoSan JuanUSA

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