In this work, the potential effect of metals, such as Cd, Cu and Pb, on the biodegradation of petroleum hydrocarbons in estuarine sediments was investigated under laboratory conditions. Sandy and muddy non-vegetated sediments were collected in the Lima River estuary (NW Portugal) and spiked with crude oil and each of the metals. Spiked sediments were left in the dark under constant shaking for 15 days, after which crude oil biodegradation was evaluated. To estimate microbial abundance, total cell counts were obtained by DAPI staining and microbial community structure was characterized by ARISA. Culturable hydrocarbon degraders were determined using a modified most probable number protocol. Total petroleum hydrocarbons concentrations were analysed by Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy after their extraction by sonication, and metal contents were determined by atomic absorption spectrometry. The results obtained showed that microbial communities had the potential to degrade petroleum hydrocarbons, with a maximum of 32 % degradation obtained for sandy sediments. Both crude oil and metals changed the microbial community structure, being the higher effect observed for Cu. Also, among the studied metals, only Cu displayed measurable deleterious effect on the hydrocarbons degradation process, as shown by a decrease in the hydrocarbon degrading microorganisms abundance and in the hydrocarbon degradation rates. Both degradation potential and metal influence varied with sediment characteristics probably due to differences in contaminant bioavailability, a feature that should be taken into account in developing bioremediation strategies for co-contaminated estuarine sites.
- Microbial communities
- Petroleum hydrocarbons