School of Science
Australian Coal Association Research Program
Mine pit lakes (‘pit lakes’) are new aquatic ecosystems of the Anthropocene. Potentially hundreds of meters deep, these lakes are prominent in the landscape and in the public consciousness. However, the ecology of pit lakes is underrepresented in the literature. The broad goal of this research was to determine the environmental drivers of pelagic microbe assemblages in Australian coal pit lakes. The overall experimental design was four lakes sampled three times, top and bottom, in 2019. Instrument chains were installed in lakes and measurements of in situ water quality and water samples for metals, metalloids, nutrients and microbe assemblage were collected. Lakes were monomictic and the timing of mixing was influenced by high rainfall events. Water quality and microbial assemblages varied significantly across space and time, and most taxa were rare. Lakes were moderately saline and circumneutral; Archeans were not prevalent. Richness also varied by catchment. Microbial assemblages correlated to environmental variables, and no one variable was consistently significant, spatially or temporally. Study lakes were dominated by ‘core’ taxa exhibiting temporal turnover likely driven by geography, water quality and interspecific competition, and the presence of water chemistry associated with an artificial aquifer likely influenced microbial community composition. Pit lakes are deceptively complex aquatic ecosystems that host equally complex pelagic microbial communities. This research established links between microbial assemblages and environmental variables in pit lakes and determined core communities; the first steps towards developing a monitoring program using microbes.
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Natural and Built Environments
Environmental science, ecology and ecosystems