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Although groundwater quality depends on microbial processes in the soil treatment area (STA) of onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS), our understanding of the development of these microbial communities is limited. We examined the bacterial communities of sand, sandy loam, and clay STAs at different depths in response to septic tank effluent (STE) addition using mesocosms. Terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (TRFLP) analysis was used to compare the bacterial community structure and composition of STE, native soil prior to STE addition (UNX) and soil exposed to STE (EXP). Principal component analysis separated communities with depth in sand but not in sandy loam or clay. Indices of richness, diversity, and evenness followed the order: sandy loam > sand > clay. Analysis of TRF peaks indicated that STE contributed least to the composition of STA bacterial communities (5%–16%), followed by UNX soil (18%–48%), with the highest proportion of the community made up of TRFs not detected previously in either UNX or STE (50%–82%) for all three soils. Soil type and depth can have a marked effect on the structure and composition of STA bacterial communities, and on the relative contribution of native soil and STE to these communities.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.