Groundwater Biofilm Dynamics Grown In Situ Along a Nutrient Gradient


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This paper describes the in situ response of groundwater biofilms in an alluvial gravel aquifer system on the Canterbury Plains, New Zealand. Biofilms were developed on aquifer gravel, encased in fine mesh bags and suspended in protective columns in monitoring wells for at least 20 weeks. Four sites were selected in the same groundwater system where previous analyses indicated a gradient of increasing nitrate down the hydraulic gradient from Sites 1 to 4. Measurements during the current study classified the groundwater as oligotrophic. Biofilm responses to the nutrient gradients were assessed using bioassays, with biomass determined using protein and cellular and nucleic acid staining and biofilm activity using enzyme assays for lipid, carbohydrate, phosphate metabolism, and cell viability. In general, biofilm activity decreased as nitrate levels increased from Sites 1 to 4, with the opposite relationship for carbon and phosphorus concentrations. These results showed that the groundwater system supported biofilm growth and that the upper catchment supported efficient and productive biofilms (high ratio of activity per unit biomass).