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Journal of King Saud University - Science
Vol. 27 (1), 2015, Pages: 31–41

Effects of hydrocarbon contamination on soil microbial community and enzyme activity

Sulaiman A. Alrumman, Dominic B. Standing, Graeme I. Paton

King Khalid University, Faculty of Science, Biological Department, P.O. Box 3100, Abha 61471, Saudi Arabia.


Soil enzymatic activities and microbial biomass carbon (Cmic) are considered to be two important soil biological activities influenced by oil contamination occurring in the soil ecosystem. This study focused on changes in the soil microbial community enzymatic activities as a result of the potential inhibitory effects of hydrocarbon contamination. The relationship between hydrocarbons (kerosene and diesel), Cmic and enzymatic activity (dehydrogenase and phosphatase) was evaluated in three amended soil types collected from different areas (Fresh Boyndie, Insch and Brechin) in Aberdeenshire (UK). Results showed that hydrocarbon contamination inhibited enzymatic activities in all the amended soil samples. The extent of inhibition increased significantly with increasing levels of hydrocarbons, and varied with the incubation period. Insch soil had high Cmic values and high numbers of heterotrophic bacteria CFU, but it had the lowest dehydrogenase and phosphatase activities of all three soils. Brechin soils had the highest phosphatase activity. Results also showed that both Insch and Brechin soils had similar numbers of culturable hydrocarbon degrader bacteria across all soil treatments with the exception of kerosene treatments, while Brechin soils had the highest culturable numbers of hydrocarbon degrading fungi across all three soil treatments with the exception of incubated control and kerosene treatments. There were generally strong positive relationships in non-treated samples between bacterial heterotrophs and hydrocarbon degrading bacteria in all three soils. Both incubated Insch and Brechin soil treatments exhibited a strong correlation between fungal heterotrophs and hydrocarbon degraders. However, non-incubated Insch and Brechin soils had a weak relationship between fungal heterotrophs and degrading fungi. Hydrocarbons in soils provide a source of carbon for microbial growth and this helps to explain the high variation in fungal data between soils which may be associated with different microbial communities in each soil.

Keywords: Enzyme activity; Hydrocarbons; Microbial community; Soil contamination.

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