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Frontiers in Microbiology

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Storm events impact freshwater microbial communities by transporting terrestrial viruses and other microbes to freshwater systems, and by potentially resuspending microbes from bottom sediments. The magnitude of these impacts on freshwater ecosystems is unknown and largely unexplored. Field studies carried out at two discrete sites in coastal Virginia (USA) were used to characterize the viral load carried by runoff and to test the hypothesis that terrestrial viruses introduced through stormwater runoff change the composition of freshwater microbial communities. Field data gathered from an agricultural watershed indicated that primary runoff can contain viral densities approximating those of receiving waters. Furthermore, viruses attached to suspended colloids made up a large fraction of the total load, particularly in early stages of the storm. At a second field site (stormwater retention pond), RAPD-PCR profiling showed that the viral community of the pond changed dramatically over the course of two intense storms while relatively little change was observed over similar time scales in the absence of disturbance. Comparisons of planktonic and particle-associated viral communities revealed two completely distinct communities, suggesting that particle-associated viruses represent a potentially large and overlooked portion of aquatic viral abundance and diversity. Our findings show that stormwater runoff can quickly change the composition of freshwater microbial communities. Based on these findings, increased storms in the coastal mid-Atlantic region predicted by most climate change models will likely have important impacts on the structure and function of local freshwater microbial communities.


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