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Keywords:

  • gastrointestinal microbes;
  • heavy metal;
  • massively parallel sequencing;
  • microbial ecology;
  • Peromyscus

Abstract

Heavy metal contamination negatively affects natural systems including plants, birds, fish and bacteria by reducing biodiversity at contaminated sites. At the Tri-State Mining District, efforts have been made to remediate sites to mitigate the detrimental effects that contamination has caused on human health. While the remediation effort has returned the site to within federal safety standards, it is unclear if this effort is sufficient to restore floral and faunal communities. Intrinsic to ecosystem and organism health is the biodiversity and composition of microbial communities. We have taken advantage of recent advances in sequencing technology and surveyed the bacterial community of remediated and reference soils as well as the intestinal microbial community of two ubiquitous rodent species to provide insight on the impacts of residual heavy metal contamination on the ecosystem. Rodents found on the remediated site had reduced body mass, smaller body size and lower body fat than animals on reference sites. Using bar-coded, massively parallel sequencing, we found that bacterial communities in both the soil and Peromyscus spp. gastrointestinal tracts had no difference in diversity between reference and remediated sites but assemblages differed in response to contamination. These results suggest that niche voids left by microbial taxa that were unable to deal with the remnant levels of heavy metals on remediated sites were replaced by taxa that could persist in this environment. Whether this replacement provided similar ecosystem services as ancestral bacterial communities is unknown.