Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Bacteria in tropical floodplain soils are sensitive to changes in saltwater

Tiffanie M. Nelson A D , Claire Streten A , Karen S. Gibb B and Anthony A. Chariton C

A Australian Institute of Marine Science, Sustainable Coastal Ecosystems and Industries in Tropical Australia, Arafura Timor Research Facility, 23 Ellengowan Drive, Casuarina, NT 0810, Australia.

B Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0810, Australia.

C CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Locked Bag 2007, Kirrawee, NSW 2232, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Present address: Geelong Centre for Emerging Infectious Disease, Faculty of Health, School of Medicine, Deakin University, Geelong, Vic. 3220, Australia. Email: tiffanie.nelson@deakin.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MF16033
Submitted: 1 February 2016  Accepted: 5 July 2016   Published online: 29 August 2016

Abstract

Bacterial communities in floodplain and wetland soils cycle elements essential for flora and fauna. The coastal habitats of northern Australia are threatened with increasing saltwater intrusion (SWI) events that will destroy freshwater habitats. The effect of the impending SWI on bacterial communities is unknown. Here, we examined the bacterial communities of a tropical river floodplain located in World Heritage Kakadu National Park. Using 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing, we measured the baseline bacterial communities from three morphologically distinct regions of the floodplain (lower, upper and backwater swamp), within three zones of the South Alligator River (upstream, cuspate and estuarine funnel or sinuous). Significant differences in the bacterial community were observed at each category of floodplain morphology and river zone. The greatest differences were due to pH and salinity. Large changes in bacterial compositions are predicted to occur with increases in salinity and pH. Saltwater intrusion is predicted to increase substantially in the next decades with sea-level rise, and is likely to cause large and significant changes to the bacterial community with unknown consequences for biogeochemical cycling. Kakadu National Park may benefit from incorporating bacteria into routine studies, because we have shown here that they are sensitive indicators of change, even across small ranges of abiotic variables.

Additional keywords: biogeochemistry, biomonitoring, hydrology, microbiology, tropics.


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