Mesocosm-scale evaluation of faunal and microbial communities of aerated and unaerated leachfield soil

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Aeration improves the capacity of leachfields to decontaminate and reduce the nutrient load of wastewater. To gain a better understanding of the effects of aeration, we examined the faunal and microbial communities of septic system leachfield soil (0-4 and 4-13 cm) using replicated (n = 3) mesocosms that were actively aerated (AIR) or unaerated (LEACH). Protozoa were 40 to 140 times more abundant in AIR than in LEACH soil. No nematodes were found in LEACH soil, whereas AIR soil contained 5 to 14 × 103 nematodes (all bacteriovores) kg-1. Active microbial biomass was four to five times higher in AIR than LEACH soil. Proteobacteria and actinomycetes/sulfate-reducing bacteria constituted a higher proportion of the community in AIR soil, whereas anaerobic Gram-negative bacteria/firmicutes were more prominent in LEACH soil. Ratios of prokaryotic to eukaryotic phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs) were higher in LEACH soil, as were membrane stress index values, whereas the starvation index was higher in AIR soil. Community-level physiological profiles showed that 29 and 30 different substrates were used for growth by LEACH and AIR soil microorganisms, respectively. The AIR soil had more microorganisms capable of growing on 10 substrates, whereas growth on two substrates was higher in LEACH soil. Polymerase chain reaction-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (PCR-DGGE) analysis of 16S rRNA gene fragments revealed greater diversity of dominant phylotypes in AIR than LEACH soil, with communities separated by treatment. Aerated leachfield soil had a larger and more diverse faunal and microbial community than unaerated soil, possibly due to differences in the type and availability of electron acceptors. © ASA, CSSA, SSSA.

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Journal of Environmental Quality