Natural attenuation of legacy hydrocarbon spills in pristine soils is feasible despite difficult environmental conditions in the monsoon tropics
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The Kimberley region of Western Australia is a National Heritage listed region that is internationally recognised for its environmental and cultural significance. However, petroleum spills have been reported at a number of sites across the region, representing an environmental concern. The region is also characterised as having low soil nutrients, high temperatures and monsoonal rain – all of which may limit the potential for natural biodegradation of petroleum. Therefore, this work evaluated the effect of legacy petroleum hydrocarbons on the indigenous soil microbial community (across the domains Archaea, Bacteria and Fungi) at three sites in the Kimberley region. At each site, soil cores were removed from contaminated and control areas and analysed for total petroleum hydrocarbons, soil nutrients, pH and microbial community profiling (using16S rRNA and ITS sequencing on the Illumina MiSeq Platform). The presence of petroleum hydrocarbons decreased microbial diversity across all kingdoms, altered the structure of microbial communities and increased the abundance of putative hydrocarbon degraders (e.g. Mycobacterium, Acremonium, Penicillium, Bjerkandera and Candida). Microbial community shifts from contaminated soils were also associated with an increase in soil nutrients (notably Colwell P and S). Our study highlights the long-term effect of legacy hydrocarbon spills on soil microbial communities and their diversity in remote, infertile monsoonal soils, but also highlights the potential for natural attenuation to occur in these environments.
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