Could benthic biofilm analyses be used as a reliable proxy for freshwater environmental health?

Yang Pu, Wing Yui Ngan, Yuan Yao, Olivier Habimana*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The quality of freshwater undoubtedly reflects the health of our surrounding environment, society, and economy, as these are supported by various freshwater ecosystems. Monitoring efforts have therefore been considered a vital means of ensuring the ecological health of freshwater environments. Nevertheless, most aquatic environmental monitoring strategies largely focus on bulk water sampling for analysis of physicochemical and key biological indicators, which for the most part do not consider pollution events that occur at any time between sampling events. Because benthic biofilms are ubiquitous in aquatic environments, pollution released during sporadic events may be absorbed by these biofilms, which can act as repositories of pollutants. The aim of this study was to assess whether benthic biofilm monitoring could provide an efficient way of properly characterizing the extent of pollution in aquatic environments. Here, bulk water and benthic biofilms were sampled from three Hong Kong streams having various pollution profiles, and subsequently compared via high-resolution microscopy, metagenomic analysis, and analytical chemistry. The results indicated that biofilms were, indeed, reservoirs of environmental pollutants, having different profiles compared with that of the corresponding bulk water samples. Moreover, the results also suggested that biofilms sampled in polluted areas were characterized by a higher species richness. While the analytical testing of benthic biofilms still needs further development, the integration of chemical-pollutant profiles and biofilm sequencing data in future studies may provide unique perspectives for understanding and identifying pollution-related biofilm biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-449
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
StatePublished - Sep 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • 16s rRNA sequencing
  • Biofilm
  • LC-MS/MS
  • SEM


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