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Sci Total Environ. 2009 Sep 15;407(19):5206-15. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.06.009.

Extensive bacterial diversity indicates the potential operation of a dynamic micro-ecology within domestic rainwater storage systems.

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  • 1School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia.


The concept that domestic rainwater storage tanks may host sustainable microbial ecosystems has not previously been addressed. The bacterial diversity, cultivated from more than 80 samples from 22 tanks at various locations across eastern Australia, is presented here as prima facie evidence for the potential operation of a functional micro-ecology within rainwater storage systems. Cultivated isolates were found to comprise members of four major bacterial divisions; Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Actinobacteria and Bacteroidetes, including more than 200 species from 80 different genera. The pattern of abundance distribution was typical of that observed in most natural communities, comprising a small number of abundant taxa and a multitude of rare taxa, while the specific composition resembled that previously described in a number of natural aquatic systems. Although Proteobacteria from alpha, beta and gamma sub-classes were dominant, a set of core taxa comprising representative genera from all four phyla could be identified. Coliform and other species specifically associated with faecal material comprised <15% of the species identified, and represented <1.5% of total average abundance. The composition of the cultivated populations and scope of diversity present, suggested that rainwater tanks may support functional ecosystems comprising complex communities of environmental bacteria, which may have beneficial implications for the quality of harvested rainwater.

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