The aquifer system of Doñana (SW Spain) represents the most important freshwater source in the Doñana Natural Area. Its spatiotemporal dynamics favours the hydrological connection between surface and subsurface ecosystems, and promotes matter fluxes among the different terrestrial and aquatic systems present here. This aquifer has been intensively studied from a hydrogeological point of view but little is known from an ecological perspective. In order to understand the ecological roles played by microbial communities in this system, we conducted a long-term seasonal study of bacterial abundance, cell biomass, bacterial biomass and functional activities over a 2-year period. Bacterial abundance ranged between 2.11 ± 1.79 × 105 and 8.58 ± 6.99 × 107 bacteria mL−1 groundwater, average cell biomass was estimated to be 77.01 ± 31.56 fgC and bacterial biomass varied between 8.99 ± 4.10 × 10−2 and 5.65 ± 0.70 µgC mL−1. Iron-related bacteria showed the highest activities among the functional groups studied. Moreover, among the variables that usually control spatial distributions of microbial communities in aquifer systems, depth did not have a relevant effect on this aquifer, at least in the range of depths studied, but grain size, probably due to its direct effects on hydrogeological parameters, such as permeability or porosity, appeared to exert moderate control, principally in terms of bacterial abundance. Finally, significant seasonal differences in the means of these microbiological variables were also observed; temperature seems to be the main factor controlling the temporal distribution of microbial communities in this aquifer system.
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