The use of microbial gene abundance in the development of fuel remediation guidelines in polar soils
Richardson, EL and King, CK and Powell, SM, The use of microbial gene abundance in the development of fuel remediation guidelines in polar soils, Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, 11, (2) pp. 235-241. ISSN 1551-3777 (2015) [Refereed Article]
Terrestrial fuel spills in Antarctica commonly occur on ice-free land around research stations as the result of human activities. Successful spill clean-ups require appropriate targets that confirm contaminated sites are no longer likely to pose environmental risk following remediation. These targets are based on knowledge of the impacts of contaminants on the soil ecosystem and on the response of native biota to contamination. Our work examined the response of soil microbial communities to fuel contamination by measuring the abundance of genes involved in critical soil processes, and assessed the use of this approach as an indicator of soil health in the presence of weathered and fresh fuels. Uncontaminated and contaminated soils were collected from the site of remediation treatment of an aged diesel spill at Casey Station, East Antarctica in December 2012. Uncontaminated soil was spiked with fresh Special Antarctic Blend (SAB) diesel to determine the response of the genes to fresh fuel. Partly remediated soil containing weathered SAB diesel was diluted with uncontaminated soil to simulate a range of concentrations of weathered fuel and used to determine the response of the genes to aged fuel. Quantitative PCR (qPCR) was used to measure the abundance of rpoB, alkB, cat23, and nosZ in soils containing SAB diesel. Differences were observed between the abundance of genes in control soils versus soils containing weathered and fresh fuels. Typical dose–response curves were generated for genes in response to the presence of fresh fuel. In contrast, the response of these genes to the range of weathered fuel appeared to be due to dilution, rather than to the effect of the fuel on the microbial community. Changes in microbial genes in response to fresh contamination have potential as a sensitive measure of soil health and for assessments of the effect of fuel spills in polar soils. This will contribute to the development of remediation guidelines to assist in management decisions on when the impact of a fuel spill warrants remediation.