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Clogging modulates the copper effects on microbial communities of streambed sediments

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The hyporheic zone, i.e. the water-saturated sediment beneath and alongside the riverbed, is exposed to multiple stressors. Agricultural-watershed rivers are frequently exposed to two concomitant stressors: clogging and copper contamination. However, one stressor exposure can increase sensitivity to a second stressor. The aim of this study was to experimentally test the cumulative effects of these two stressors on copper distribution and structural and functional microbial communities responses in the hyporheic zone. A slow filtration column experiment was conducted to compare the effects of 3 treatments of increasing complexity: ‘Reference’, ‘Copper-contaminated’ (dissolved copper added at 191 µg L−1), and ‘Clogging+Copper’ (dissolved copper + addition of 2 cm of fine sediment). Microbial community structure and activities were studied at 4 column sediment depths. The results showed that clogging did not modify the distribution of copper, which remained fixed in the first few centimetres. In the first few centimetres, clogging had a stimulating effect on microbial activities whereas copper had limited effects mainly on leucine aminopeptidase activity and microbial community tolerance to copper. The subsurface zone thus hosts significant different microbial communities from the communities in the deeper zones that were protected from surface stressors. This experiment confirms the valuable filtering role played by the hyporheic zone and shows that microbial responses are strongly correlated to microhabitat-scale physicochemical conditions in sediment.

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The authors thank Abdelkader Azougui, Guillaume Le Goff, Bernadette Volat, Bernard Motte, Christophe Rosy, Florian Favier, Lysiane Dherret and Corinne Brosse-Quilgars for their help with sampling, column experiments and analyses. This study received funding support from Rovaltain Fundation (France).

Author contributions

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by AD, MM, CB and LK. The first draft of the manuscript was written by LK and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This study received funding support from Rovaltain Fundation (France) and INRAE. A CC-BY public copyright license has been applied by the authors to the present document and will be applied to all subsequent versions up to the Author Accepted Manuscript arising from this submission, in accordance with the grant’s open access conditions.

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Correspondence to Laura Kergoat.

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Kergoat, L., Dabrin, A., Masson, M. et al. Clogging modulates the copper effects on microbial communities of streambed sediments. Ecotoxicology 32, 321–335 (2023).

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