Microcosm experiments of oil degradation by microbial mats. II. The changes in microbial species

Marc Llirós, Núria Gaju, Tirso García de Oteyza, Joan O. Grimalt, Isabel Esteve, Maira Martínez-Alonso

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20 Citations (Scopus)


The influence of microbial mats on the degradation of two crude oils (Casablanca and Maya) and the effect of oil pollution on the mat structure were assessed using model ecosystems, prepared under laboratory conditions subject to tidal movements, from pristine Ebro Delta microbial-mat ecosystems. Both selected oils are examples of those currently used for commercial purposes. Casablanca crude oil is aliphatic with a low viscosity; Maya represents a sulphur-rich heavy crude oil that is predominantly aromatic. In the unpolluted microcosms, Microcoleus chthonoplastes-, Phormidium- and Oscillatoria-like were the dominant filamentous cyanobacterial morphotypes, whilst Synechoccocus-, Synechocystis- and Gloeocapsa-like were the most abundant unicellular cyanobacteria. After oil contamination, no significant changes of chlorophyll a and protein concentrations were observed, though cyanobacterial diversity shifts were monitored. Among filamentous cyanobacteria, M. chthonoplastes-like morphotype was the most resistant for both oils, unlike the other cyanobacteria, which tolerated Casablanca but not Maya. Unicellular cyanobacteria seemed to be resistant to pollution with both essayed oils, with the exception of the morphotype resembling Gloeocapsa, which was sensitive to both oils. The crude-oil addition also had a significant effect on certain components of the heterotrophic microbial community. Casablanca oil induced an increase in anaerobic heterotrophic bacteria, whereas the opposite effect was observed in those heterotrophs when polluted with Maya oil. The overall results, microbiological and crude-oil transformation analysis, indicate that the indigenous community has a considerable potential to degrade oil components by means of the metabolic cooperation of phototrophic and heterotrophic populations. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-49
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2008


  • Biodegradation
  • Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy
  • Crude-oil pollution
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Marine environment
  • Microbial mats
  • Microcosms


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