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Adv Appl Microbiol. 1988;33:107-72.

Microbial ecology of the terrestrial subsurface.

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Department of Microbiology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853.


We have presented a current view of the microbial ecology of the terrestrial subsurface by considering primarily the ecology of shallow aquifer sediments. The properties of the aquifer sediments and groundwater determine their ability to support microbial life and control the abundance and activities of microorganisms. Pore size, nutrient limitations, availability of electron acceptors, and large surface area for attachment all may have major effects on microbial abundance and activities in aquifer material. Microorganisms are the predominant forms of life in the subsurface. They will be found wherever enough space, nutrients, and water are available for them to live. Environmental factors such as pH, temperature, hydrostatic pressure, and dissolved salts also may influence subsurface microbial populations, but these factors do not exhibit great extremes in shallow water table aquifers, and thus only in very deep formations might they limit diversity or preclude the existence of microorganisms. Although the presence and activity of microorganisms in most subsurface environments are predictable, only recently have subsurface microbial populations in shallow subsurface zones been characterized. Aseptic sampling methods have been employed and microbiological and biochemical methods have been adapted to determine the types, abundance, and metabolic activities of microorganisms in subsurface material. Bacteria dominate, but eukaryotic microorganisms also are present. Vertical profile studies of a shallow aquifer in Oklahoma showed that active microbial biomass declined with depth to the unsaturated zone, but was variable in saturated sediments. Such a distribution of active biomass may be common in shallow aquifers. Studies on the lateral distribution of microorganisms in shallow and deep aquifers suggest that microorganisms are transported or migrate over fairly long distances in aquifer sediments. Surficial aquifers may be colonized by vertical or lateral transport and migration of surface microorganisms from recharge areas, but microorganisms could also have colonized when sediments were originally deposited. The biological and physical mechanisms controlling the migration of microorganisms in aquifers are not well understood. The function of shallow aquifers was considered with regard to nutritional ecology. Most pristine aquifers are oligotrophic. Heterotrophic life in these unique ecosystems is supported by secondary organic compounds that filter down from the soil above. The quantity and quality of organic nutrients depend on the age of water and rate of recharge of the aquifer.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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