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Establishment and convergence of photosynthetic microbial biomats in shallow unit process open-water wetlands

Jones, Zackary L., Mikkelson, Kristin M., Nygren, Scott, Sedlak, David L., Sharp, Jonathan O.
Water research 2018 v.133 pp. 132-141
Bacillariophyceae, bacterial communities, growing season, microbiome, microscopy, municipal wastewater, nitrate nitrogen, nitrates, photosynthesis, phylogeny, rivers, summer, surface water, uncertainty, unit process, water treatment, wetlands, California
The widespread adoption of engineered wetlands designed for water treatment is hindered by uncertainties in system reliability, resilience and management associated with coupled biological and physical processes. To better understand how shallow unit process open-water wetlands self-colonize and evolve, we analyzed the composition of the microbial community in benthic biomats from system establishment through approximately 3 years of operation. Our analysis was conducted across three parallel demonstration-scale (7500 m2) cells located within the Prado Constructed Wetlands in Southern California. They received water from the Santa Ana River (5.9 ± 0.2 mg/L NO3-N), a water body where the flow is dominated by municipal wastewater effluent from May to November. Phylogenetic inquiry and microscopy confirmed that diatoms and an associated aerobic bacterial community facilitated early colonization. After approximately nine months of operation, coinciding with late summer, an anaerobic community emerged with the capability for nitrate attenuation. Varying the hydraulic residence time (HRT) from 1 to 4 days the subsequent year resulted in modest ecological changes across the three parallel cells that were most evident in the outlet regions of the cells. The community that established at this time was comparatively stable for the remaining years of operation and converged with one that had previously formed approximately 550 km (350 miles) away in a pilot-scale (400 m2) wetland in Northern California. That system received denitrified (20.7 ± 0.7 mg/L NO3-N), secondary treated municipal wastewater for 5 years of operation. Establishment of a core microbiome between the two systems revealed a strong overlap of both aerobic and anaerobic taxa with approximately 50% of the analyzed bacterial sequences shared between the two sites. Additionally the same species of diatom, Stauirsa construens var. venter, was prolific in both systems as the putative dominant primary producer. Our results indicate that despite differences in scale, geographic location and source waters, the shallow open-water wetland design can select for a rapid convergence of microbial structure and functionality associated with the self-colonizing benthic biomat. This resulting biomat matures over the first growing season with operational parameters such as HRT further exerting a modest selective bias on community succession.