A bacterial community-based index to assess the ecological status of estuarine and coastal environments
Biotic indices for monitoring marine ecosystems are mostly based on the analysis of benthic macroinvertebrate communities. Due to their high sensitivity to pollution and fast response to environmental changes, bacterial assemblages could complement the information provided by benthic metazoan communities as indicators of human-induced impacts, but so far, this biological component has not been well explored for this purpose. Here we performed 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing to analyze the bacterial assemblage composition of 51 estuarine and coastal stations characterized by different environmental conditions and human-derived pressures. Using the relative abundance of putative indicator bacterial taxa, we developed a biotic index that is significantly correlated with a sediment quality index calculated on the basis of organic and inorganic compound concentrations. This new index based on bacterial assemblage composition can be a sensitive tool for providing a fast environmental assessment and allow a more comprehensive integrative ecosystem approach for environmental management.
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