The effect of long-term exposure to mercury on the soil microbial community was investigated in soil from three different sites along a pollution gradient. The amount of total and bioavailable mercury was negatively correlated to the distance from the center of contamination. The size of the bacterial and protozoan populations was reduced in the most contaminated soil, whereas there was no significant difference in fungal biomass measured as chitinase activity. Based on the number of colony morphotypes, moreover, the culturable bacterial population was structurally less diverse and contained a higher proportion of resistant and fast-growing forms. The profiles of amplified 16S rDNA sequences obtained from community DNA by denaturating gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) also reflected the altered community structure and decreased diversity along the mercury gradient as expressed in terms of the number and abundance of bands. The functional potential of the microbial population measured as sole carbon source utilization by Ecoplates® differed between the soils, but there was no change in the number of substrates utilized. The observed changes in the different soil microbial populations are probably a combination of both direct and indirect effects of the mercury contamination.
Fems Microbiology Ecology, 2001, Vol 36, Issue 1, p. 11-19