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Environ Sci Technol. 2013;47(21):12097-106. doi: 10.1021/es402970s. Epub 2013 Oct 22.

Seasonal variability in bacterial and fungal diversity of the near-surface atmosphere.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado , UCB 334, Boulder, Colorado 80309, United States.


Bacteria and fungi are ubiquitous throughout the Earth's lower atmosphere where they often represent an important component of atmospheric aerosols with the potential to impact human health and atmospheric dynamics. However, the diversity, composition, and spatiotemporal dynamics of these airborne microbes remain poorly understood. We performed a comprehensive analysis of airborne microbes across two aerosol size fractions at urban and rural sites in the Colorado Front Range over a 14-month period. Coarse (PM10-2.5) and fine (PM2.5) particulate matter samples were collected at weekly intervals with both bacterial and fungal diversity assessed via high-throughput sequencing. The diversity and composition of the airborne communities varied across the sites, between the two size fractions, and over time. Bacteria were the dominant type of bioaerosol in the collected air samples, while fungi and plants (pollen) made up the remainder, with the relative abundances of fungi peaking during the spring and summer months. As bacteria made up the majority of bioaerosol particles, we analyzed the bacterial communities in greater detail using a bacterial-specific 16S rRNA gene sequencing approach. Overall, bacterial taxonomic richness and the relative abundances of specific bacterial taxa exhibited significant patterns of seasonality. Likewise, airborne bacterial communities varied significantly between sites and across aerosol size fractions. Source-tracking analyses indicate that soils and leaves represented important sources of bacteria to the near-surface atmosphere across all locations with cow fecal bacteria also representing an important source of bioaerosols at the more rural sites during early fall and early spring. Together, these data suggest that a complex set of environmental factors, including changes in atmospheric conditions and shifts in the relative importance of available microbial sources, act to control the composition of microbial bioaerosols in rural and urban environments.

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