Composition and dynamics of biostimulated indigenous oil-degrading microbial consortia from the Irish, North and Mediterranean Seas: a mesocosm study


Correspondence: Christoph Gertler, School of Biological Sciences, Environment Centre Wales, Bangor University, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK. Tel.: +44 1248 383 056; fax: +44 1248 382 527; e-mail:


Diversity of indigenous microbial consortia and natural occurrence of obligate hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria (OHCB) are of central importance for efficient bioremediation techniques. To investigate the microbial population dynamics and composition of oil-degrading consortia, we have established a series of identical oil-degrading mesocosms at three different locations, Bangor (Menai Straits, Irish Sea), Helgoland (North Sea) and Messina (Messina Straits, Mediterranean Sea). Changes in microbial community composition in response to oil spiking, nutrient amendment and filtration were assessed by ARISA and DGGE fingerprinting and 16Sr RNA gene library analysis. Bacterial and protozoan cell numbers were quantified by fluorescence microscopy. Very similar microbial population sizes and dynamics, together with key oil-degrading microorganisms, for example, Alcanivorax borkumensis, were observed at all three sites; however, the composition of microbial communities was largely site specific and included variability in relative abundance of OHCB. Reduction in protozoan grazing had little effect on prokaryotic cell numbers but did lead to a decrease in the percentage of A. borkumensis 16S rRNA genes detected in clone libraries. These results underline the complexity of marine oil-degrading microbial communities and cast further doubt on the feasibility of bioaugmentation practices for use in a broad range of geographical locations.