Bacterial communities are sensitive indicators of contaminant stress

Melanie Y. Sun, Katherine A. Dafforn, Mark V. Brown, Emma L. Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

139 Citations (Scopus)


With many environments worldwide experiencing at least some degree of anthropogenic modification, there is great urgency to identify sensitive indicators of ecosystem stress. Estuarine organisms are particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic contaminants. This study presents bacterial communities as sensitive indicators of contaminant stress. Sediments were collected from multiple sites within inner and outer zones of three heavily modified and three relatively unmodified estuaries. Bacterial communities were censused using Automated Ribosomal Intergenic Spacer Analysis and analysed for a suite of metal and PAH contaminants. Shifts in both bacterial community composition and diversity showed strong associations with sediment contaminant concentrations, particularly with metals. Importantly, these changes are discernable from environmental variation inherent to highly complex estuarine environments. Moreover, variation in bacterial communities within sites was limited. This allowed for differences between sites, zones and estuaries to be explained by variables of interest such as contaminants that vary between, but not within individual sites.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1029-1038
Number of pages10
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • bacterial community structure
  • bacterial community diversity
  • metals
  • PAHs
  • estuarine sediment


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