This study of the active bacteria residing in a pristine confined aquifer provides unexpected insights into the ecology of iron-reducing and sulfate-reducing bacteria in the subsurface. At 18 wells, we trapped the microbes that attached to aquifer sediment and used molecular techniques to examine the bacterial populations. We used multivariate statistics to compare the composition of bacterial communities among the wells with respect to the chemistry of the groundwater. We found groundwater at each well was considerably richer in ferrous iron than sulfide, indicating iron-reducing bacteria should, by established criteria, dominate the sulfate reducers. Our results show, however, that areas where groundwater contains more than a negligible amount of sulfate (>0.03 mM), populations related to sulfate reducers of the genera Desulfobacter and Desulfobulbus were of nearly equal abundance with putative iron reducers related to Geobacter, Geothrix, and Desulfuromonas. Whereas sulfate is a key discriminant of bacterial community structure, we observed no statistical relationship between the distribution of bacterial populations in this aquifer and the concentration of either ferrous iron or dissolved sulfide. These results call into question the validity of using the relative concentration of these two ions to predict the nature of bacterial activity in an aquifer. Sulfate reducers and iron reducers do not appear to be segregated into discrete zones in the aquifer, as would be predicted by the theory of competitive exclusion. Instead, we find the two groups coexist in the subsurface in what we suggest is a mutualistic relationship.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Water Science and Technology