Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 101, Issue 17, pp 6755–6764 | Cite as

Unravelling riverine microbial communities under wastewater treatment plant effluent discharge in large urban areas

Environmental biotechnology


In many highly urbanized areas, effluent from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) represents a significant proportion of the water source for receiving rivers. Microbial communities are major components of riverine ecosystems and mediate the processes of nutrients and organic matter produced by treated and untreated WWTP effluent. To date, the impacts of WWTP effluent discharge on riverine microbial communities remain poorly understood. Based on 16S rRNA gene sequencing and water quality analysis, we investigated the microbial community compositions and predicted functions in the effluents of five municipal WWTPs and their receiving rivers. The results showed that the microbial compositions in the five WWTP effluents with different treatment processes were similar. Significant differences in the microbial community were not noted between the effluent, upstream, and downstream sites for both sampling months. However, dissimilarity of microbial composition between two sampling periods was observed. The temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and ammonium were major environmental factors associated with microbial community changes. Functional annotations of microbial communities based on 16S amplicons identified xenobiotic degradation and metabolism functions in effluent and river samples. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction revealed the dominance of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) over ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) in the WWTP effluents and rivers, and significant positive correlation between AOB abundance and nitrate concentration was observed. These findings will help increase our understanding of the impact of effluent discharge on urban river ecosystems.


WWTP effluent Receiving river Microbial community High-throughput sequencing 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Funding No. 51420105012 and 51578537) and the Chinese Academy of sciences (ZDRW-ZS-2016-5-6). The authors thank the BGI Central China (Wuhan) for high-throughput sequencing services. We also kindly thank the other members of the EcoImprove team for their help in the sampling.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

253_2017_8384_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (11.8 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 12113 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Drinking Water Science and Technology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental SciencesChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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