Stygofauna enhance prokaryotic transport in groundwater ecosystems
Smith, Renee J
Tobe, Shanan S
Mitchell, James Gordon
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More than 97% of the world’s freshwater reserves are found in aquifers, making groundwater one of the most important resources on the planet. Prokaryotic communities in groundwater underpin the turnover of energy and matter while also maintaining groundwater purity. Thus, knowledge of microbial transport in the subsurface is crucial for maintaining groundwater health. Here, we describe for the first time the importance of stygofauna as vectors for prokaryotes. The “hitch-hiking” prokaryotes associated with stygofauna may be up to 5 orders of magnitude higher in abundance and transported up to 34× faster than bulk groundwater flow. We also demonstrate that prokaryotic diversity associated with stygofauna may be higher than that of the surrounding groundwater. Stygofauna are a newly recognized prokaryotic niche in groundwater ecosystems that have the potential to transport remediating, water purifying and pathogenic prokaryotes. Therefore, stygofauna may influence ecosystem dynamics and health at a microbial level, and at a larger scale could be a new source of prokaryotic diversity in groundwater ecosystems.