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Diverse communities of bacteria are exchanged between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and environmental parameters, such as relative humidity and rainfall, have been found to influence the composition of microbes found on the surfaces of leaves. Recent studies have shown that wind blowing across water create waves, which create bubbles that pop and produce aerosols, which become airborne and distribute away from the water source, eventually settling onto a surface. There have not been studies documenting how constant aerosolization, like from a waterfall, might cause a change in the bacteria composition of the immediate surrounding environment. In this study, we explore how the bacterial compositions of two spatially close wooded environments (riparian, near the water; forest, away from the water) are influenced by aerosolization of particles from a waterfall. First, we identified that a riparian zone with a source of constant aerosolization has higher bacterial counts on leaves than leaves from the forest, and high aerosol levels than the forest zone away from the water. Next, we used metagenomic sequencing of the 16S gene of the bacteria washed from the leaves and from water samples to further explore the taxonomical composition of the water, forest, and riparian bacterial communities. We found that microbial communities on leaves in the Saw Kill watershed are diverse, and that leaves in the riparian zone harbored bacterial communities that were similar to water surface communities. We also found that riparian leaf bacterial communities and surface water bacterial communities share five times more operational taxonomic units (OTUs), than forest leaves and surface waters do. This indicates that the riparian zone has two observed environmental factor that beings it taxonomically close to the water surface, which the forest zone does not have; the waterfall and a higher relative humidity. Finally, we document that rain appears to serve as an important influence on the mechanisms behind what shapes leaf bacterial communities.
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Lansbury, Beckett Alexander, "Influence of a Waterway on the Microbial Colonization of Riparian Vegtation" (2016). Senior Projects Spring 2016. 50.