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Physical properties of epilithic river biofilm as a new lead to perform pollution bioassessments in overseas territories

Abstract : Chlordecone (CLD) levels measured in the rivers of the French West Indies were among the highest values detected worldwide in freshwater ecosystems, and its contamination is recognised as a severe health, environmental, agricultural, economic, and social issue. In these tropical volcanic islands, rivers show strong originalities as simplified food webs, or numerous amphidromous migrating species, making the bioindication of contaminations a difficult issue. The objective of this study was to search for biological responses to CLD pollution in a spatially fixed and long-lasting component of the rivers in the West Indies: the epilithic biofilm. Physical properties were investigated through complementary analyses: friction, viscosity as well as surface adhesion were analyzed and coupled with measures of biofilm carbon content and exopolymeric substance (EPS) production. Our results have pointed out a mesoscale chemical and physical reactivity of the biofilm that can be correlated with CLD contamination. We were able to demonstrate that epilithic biofilm physical properties can effectively be used to infer freshwater environmental quality of French Antilles rivers. The friction coefficient is reactive to contamination and well correlated to carbon content and EPS production. Monitoring biofilm physical properties could offer many advantages to potential users in terms of effectiveness and ease of use, rather than more complex or time-consuming analyses. Out of the 11,435 French water bodies analysed for quality compliance according to regulations imposed by European legislation, 10% are located between the tropics and the equator, thousands of kilometres away from European shores 1. In the outermost tropical territories, climatic characteristics often result in highly turbulent tropical streams 2 that support simplified ecosystems with very few primary producers. Due to high river flow, perennial phytoplankton, zooplankton and macroalgae are scarce or missing and the epilithic biofilm deserves here, even more than elsewhere, the comparison with a real productive and contributive "microbial skin" 3. The epilithic biofilm is the only endogenous long-lasting primary producer that grows on submersed river stones and is largely exploited as a food source by all diadromous fish or crustaceans 4,5. In these countries, the simplified food webs and the massive flows of post-larvae and juveniles regularly re-entering the rivers and migrating
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Dominique Monti, Cédric Hubas, Xavier Lourenço, Farid Begarin, Alexandre Haouisée, et al.. Physical properties of epilithic river biofilm as a new lead to perform pollution bioassessments in overseas territories. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 2020, 10 (1), pp.17309. ⟨10.1038/s41598-020-73948-7⟩. ⟨hal-02968035⟩

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