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Interactions between river bed morphology, water chemistry and microbial diversity

Researcher: Andrew Giuseppe King
Project duration: 2010-2014
Supervisors: Prof. I. Guymer, Dr G. D. Bending, Dr J. M. Pearson, Dr H. Schafer and Dr O. R. Price
Funding body: NERC in collaboration with Unilever

Project Overview

Riverine ecosystems are stressed and potentially damaged by anthropogenic actions (Sala et al., 2000), with direct discharge scenarios identified as a damaging force applied to environments (Lake, 2000; Whelan et al., 2007; Finnegan et al., 2009). Current literature acknowledges the potential importance of fluvial bed-form characteristics and microbial biofilm composition on the fate of chemical pollutant distribution and biodegradation (Marion et al., 2002; Bottacin-Busolin et al., 2009), identifying that further research is needed.

This research project will investigate the effect of bed-form characteristics on the diversity and pollutant degrading potential response of microbial biofilm communities at the sediment-water surface. In addition it will examine the effects of direct discharge events on the interactions between these factors. This experimentation will be undertaken in a series of specially designed re-circulating flume systems, which replicate actual channel flow. To address these aims, the following hypotheses have been identified for testing:

  • Chemical pollutant distribution patterns within river sediment are determined by bed-form.
  • Bed-form controls microbial community diversity and structural composition within sediment biofilms.
  • Bed-form affects the development of catabolic communities and biodegradation rates within sediment biofilms.
  • Direct discharge situations alter the establishment of riverbed microbial communities and biodegradation processes.

Following the completion of the experimental phase and hypotheses testing, it is intended that the findings will be incorporated into exposure modelling frameworks for developed and developing countries, thereby assessing the accuracy of the currently employed OECD tests.


Bottacin-Busolin, A., Singer, A., Zaramella, M., Battin, T. J. and Marion, A. (2009) Effects of Streambed Morphology and Biofilm Growth on the Transient Storage of Solutes. Environmental Science Technology, 43, 7337-7342.

Finnegan, C. J., Van Egmond, R. A., Price, O. R. and Whelan, M. J. (2009) Continuous-flow Laboratory Simulation of Stream Water quality changes Downstream of an Untreated Wastewater Discharge. Water Research, 43, 1993–2001.

Lake P. S. (2000) Disturbance, patchiness, and diversity in streams. The North American Benthological Society, 19 (4).

Marion, A., Bellinello, M., Guymer, I. and Packman, A. (2002) Effect of Bed Form Geometry on the Penetration of Nonreactive Solutes into a Streambed. Water Resources Research, 38.

Whelan, M. J., Van Egmond, R., Guymer, I., Lacoursiere, J. O., Vought, L. M. B., Finnegan, C., Fox, K. K., Sparham, C., O’Connor, S., Vaughn, M. and Pearson, J. M. (2007) The Behaviour of Linear Alkyl Benzene Sulphonate under Direct Discharge Conditions in Vientiane, Lao PDR. Water Research, 41, 4730 - 4740.