Effects of uranium concentration on microbial community structure and functional potential

Brodie Sutcliffe, Anthony A. Chariton, Andrew J. Harford, Grant C. Hose, Paul Greenfield, Liam D.H. Elbourne, Yalchin Oytam, Sarah Stephenson, David J. Midgley, Ian T. Paulsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Located in the Northern Territory of Australia, Ranger uranium mine is directly adjacent to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park, with rehabilitation targets needed to ensure the site can be incorporated into the park following the mine's closure in 2026. This study aimed to understand the impact of uranium concentration on microbial communities, in order to identify and describe potential breakpoints in microbial ecosystem services. This is the first study to report in situ deployment of uranium-spiked sediments along a concentration gradient (0–4000 mg U kg−1), with the study design maximising the advantages of both field surveys and laboratory manipulative studies. Changes to microbial communities were characterised through the use of amplicon and shotgun metagenomic next-generation sequencing. Significant changes to taxonomic and functional community assembly occurred at a concentration of 1500 mg U kg−1 sediment and above. At uranium concentrations of ≥ 1500 mg U kg−1, genes associated with methanogenic consortia and processes increased in relative abundance, while numerous significant changes were also seen in the relative abundances of genes involved in nitrogen cycling. Such alterations in carbon and nitrogen cycling pathways suggest that taxonomic and functional changes to microbial communities may result in changes in ecosystem processes and resilience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3323-3341
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental microbiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


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