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Crit Rev Microbiol. 1994;20(3):225-41.

Ecology of free-living amoebae.

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Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México, UIICSE, Laboratory of Microbial Ecology, Azcapotzalco D.F., México.


Small free-living amoebae (FLA) are the main predators controlling bacterial populations in soils. They are distributed in the rhizospheric zone and the surrounding bulk soil; however, they may spread deeper, reaching the vadose zone of groundwater systems, especially where bacterial populations get to high densities. Soil texture is the physical factor controlling the distribution of FLA because it determines the mean bore pore of soil aggregates and other important physical factors. FLA help maintain the high bacterial mineralization rate of organic matter through predation. As attachment onto a surface is necessary for feeding, the quantity of available surfaces is very important for developing this activity. However, the role of protozoa on plant growth promotion is still unclear because they may increase this effect by feeding on both fungi and bacteria. Small FLA are found in soils or sediments, as well as attached to suspended particulate matter in water columns, in the first 30 microns of water surface, or on the bodies of submerged animals and plants. These microorganisms do not distinguish between terrestrial or aquatic environments because they live in the interfaces between them. However, their importance in aquatic systems has been considered as negligible because they are outcompeted by free swimmers. The water conditions affecting amoebae survival are pH, temperature, concentration of sulfhydric acid and salinity. These factors have a strong influence on the structure of amoebae communities in aquatic environments. FLA are considered cosmopolitan as a group, and they live inside vertebrates, in soils, freshwater, marine waters, and on the aerial parts of plants and animals. These microbes, are spread by wind and water currents. Once in the air, cysts and trophozoites behave like any other suspended particulate matter. Therefore, suspension transportation, and removal depend on atmospheric dynamics rather than on their own mechanisms. Ultraviolet light and drought are the main causes of losing viability, but much needs to be learned about the effects of air contaminants on amoebal survival. Naked amoebae also live in the phyllosphere as part of phylloplane community, but their importance and participation in this environment remain unknown. Some species belonging to the genera Acanthamoebae, Naegleria, and Balamuthia cause fatal diseases in humans and are carriers of other pathogens such as Legionella pneumophilia. However, FLA communities can be of some utility in sewage treatment works based in soil filters. FLA's predatory activity in the root zone method may be of greater importance than previously thought, because this is their natural or more favorable environment.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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