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Exposure to synthetic hydraulic fracturing waste influences the mucosal bacterial community structure of the brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) epidermis

June 18, 2018

Production of natural gas using unconventional technologies has risen as demand for alternative fuels has increased. Impacts on the environment from waste generated from these processes are largely unexplored. In particular, the outcomes of organismal exposure to hydraulic fracturing waste have not been rigorously evaluated. We evaluated the effects of exposure to surrogate hydraulic fracturing waste (HF waste) on mucosal bacterial community structure of the brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) epidermis. Brook trout are fish native to streams at risk to HF waste exposure. Here, fish were exposed to four treatments (control, 0.00%; low, 0.01%; medium, 0.10%; and high, 1.0% concentrations) of surrogate HF waste synthesized to mimic concentrations documented in the field. Epidermal mucus samples were collected and assessed 15 days post-exposure to determine if the associated bacterial community varied among treatments. We observed differences in epidermal mucosal bacterial community composition at multiple taxonomic scales among treatments. These community changes reflected compositional differences in taxa dominance and community similarity rather than losses or gains in taxonomic richness. The dominant bacterial genus that explained the greatest variation in community structure between exposed and unexposed fish was Flavobacterium. Two genera associated with salmonid diseases, Flavobacterium and Pseudomonas, were statistically more abundant in high treatments than controls. These results suggest that exposure to low levels of HF waste influences bacterial colonization and may lead to a disruption that favors bacterial populations associated with fish disease.