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FEMS Microbiol Rev. 1997 Jul;20(3-4):261-75.

Protistan communities in aquifers: a review.

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Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum, London, UK.


Eukaryotic microorganisms (protists) are a very important component of microbial communities inhabiting groundwater aquifers. This is not unexpected when one considers that many protists feed heterotrophically, by means of either phagotrophy (bacterivory) or osmotrophy. Protistan numbers are usually low (< 10(2) per g dw of aquifer material) in pristine, uncontaminated aquifers but may increase by several orders of magnitude in aquifers subject to organic pollution. Small flagellates (typically 2-3(5) microns in size in situ) are by far the dominant protists in aquifers, although amoebae and occasionally ciliates may also be present in much lower numbers. Although a wealth of new taxonomic information is waiting to be brought to light, interest in the identity of aquifer protists is not exclusively academic. If verified, the following hypotheses may prove to be important towards our understanding of the functioning of microbial communities in aquifers: (1) Differences in swimming behavior between species of flagellates lead to feeding heterogeneity and niche differentiation, implying that bacterivorous flagellates graze on different subsets of the bacterial community, and therefore play different roles in controlling bacterial densities. (2) Bacterivorous flagellates grazing on bacteria capable of degrading organic compounds have an indirect effect on the overall rates of biodegradation.

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