Dynamics of natural prokaryotes, viruses, and heterotrophic nanoflagellates in alpine karstic groundwater

Inés C. Wilhartitz*, Alexander K.T. Kirschner, Corina P.D. Brussaard, Ulrike R. Fischer, Claudia Wieltschnig, Hermann Stadler, Andreas H. Farnleitner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

20 Citations (Scopus)


Seasonal dynamics of naturally occurring prokaryotes, viruses, and heterotrophic nanoflagellates in two hydro-geologically contrasting alpine karst springs were monitored over three annual cycles. To our knowledge, this study is the first to shed light on the occurrence and possible interrelationships between these three groups in karstic groundwater. Hydrological and microbiological standard indicators were recovered simultaneously in order to estimate surface influence, especially during rainfall events. Data revealed a strong dependence of the microbial communities on the prevailing hydrological situation. Prokaryotic numbers averaged 5.1 × 107 and 1.3 × 107 cells L-1, and heterotrophic nanoflagellate abundance averaged 1.1 × 104 and 3 × 103 cells L-1 in the limestone spring type (LKAS2) and the dolomitic spring type (DKAS1), respectively. Viral abundance in LKAS2 and DKAS1 averaged 9.4 × 108 and 1.1 × 108 viruses L-1. Unlike in DKAS1, the dynamic spring type LKAS2 revealed a clear difference between base flow and high discharge conditions. The virus-to-prokaryotes ratio was generally lower by a factor of 2-3, at higher average water residence times. Furthermore, the high prokaryotes-to-heterotrophic nanoflagellate ratios, namely about 4700 and 5400 for LKAS2 and DKAS1, respectively, pointed toward an uncoupling of these two groups in the planktonic fraction of alpine karstic aquifers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633-643
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Alpine karst
  • Groundwater
  • Heterotrophic nanoflagellates
  • Prokaryotes
  • Viruses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology


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