Bacteria in Ballast Water: The Shipping Industry's Contributions to the Transport and Distribution of Microbial Species in Texas



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The transportation of organisms in the ballast water of cargo ships has been recognized as a source of invasive species despite current control measures. Pathogenic bacteria in the ballast tank have been studied but the total diversity of the ballast tank bacterial community has not been examined. This study is the first to characterize the total bacterial community within a ballast tank by constructing a clone library from a ballast water sample from a cargo ship in the Port of Houston, amplified ribosomal rDNA restriction analysis (ARDRA) and phylogenetic analysis. Bacterial communities in Texas ports and bays were also examined using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE), looking at both temporal and spatial variations for effects of deballasting activity. This ballast tank bacterial community had a high level of diversity (95%) with the clone library only representing 40% of the total community of the tank. Most probable originating habitats of the ballast bacteria were: marine pelagic (40%), estuarine (37%), coastal (6%), freshwater (3%) and other (14%), even though this ballast tank was exchanged with pelagic water. Predominate groups were alpha- and gammaproteobacteria, a few betaproteobacteria and bacteriodetes, and one each of verrucomicrobia, planctomycetes and actinobacteria, but no pathogens were detected. The data reveals a ballast tank that consists of half marine-pelagic, half port bacteria, revealing a low efficacy of exchange control methods and potentially invasive bacteria. The bacterial communities of five ships that exchanged ballast water in the Pacific Ocean shared on average 50% similarity. Two ships that exchanged ballast water in temperate latitudes were more similar than three other ships that exchanged in tropical latitudes, showing a correlation between location of exchange and community similarity. The bacterial communities of the Ports of Houston and Galveston exhibit stable, seasonal successions over one year. The port and bay systems of Texas exhibited spatial variations in bacterial communities related to salinity levels. Both experiments did not show evidence of community disruption by deballasting activities. This study shows that ballast water is a viable vector for invasive bacterial transport, although impact on Texas estuarine systems seems minimal.