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Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering

Front. Environ. Sci. Eng.    2018, Vol. 12 Issue (2) : 12
Effects of heavy rainfall on the composition of airborne bacterial communities
Gwang Il Jang1,2, Chung Yeon Hwang2, Byung Cheol Cho1()
1. Microbial Oceanography Laboratory, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Research Institute of Oceanography, Seoul National University, Seoul 08826, Republic of Korea
2. Division of Polar Life Sciences, Korea Polar Research Institute, Incheon 21990, Republic of Korea
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Airborne bacterial community composition changed between before and after rainfall.

Actinobacteria and Firmicutes, respectively, increased and decreased after rain.

Rainfalls might have adverse effects on human and plant health.

Wet deposition scavenges particles and particle-associated bacteria from the air column, but the impact of raindrops on various surfaces on Earth causes emission of surface-associated bacteria into the air column. Thus, after rainfall, these two mechanisms are expected to cause changes in airborne bacterial community composition (BCC). In this study, aerosol samples were collected at a suburban site in Seoul, Korea before and after three heavy rainfall events in April, May, and July 2011. BCC was investigated by pyrosequencing the 16S rRNA gene in aerosol samples. Interestingly, the relative abundance of non-spore forming Actinobacteria operational taxonomic units (OTUs) was always higher in post-rain aerosol samples. In particular, the absolute and relative abundances of airborne Propionibacteriaceae always increased after rainfall, whereas those of airborne Firmicutes, including Carnobacteriaceae and Clostridiales, consistently decreased. Marine bacterial sequences, which were temporally important in aerosol samples, also decreased after rainfall events. Further, increases in pathogen-like sequences were often observed in post-rain air samples. Rainfall events seemed to affect airborne BCCs by the combined action of the two mechanisms, with potentially adverse effects on human and plant health.

Keywords Aerosol      Bacteria      Community composition      Pyrosequencing      Rain     
Corresponding Author(s): Byung Cheol Cho   
Issue Date: 05 December 2017
 Cite this article:   
Gwang Il Jang,Chung Yeon Hwang,Byung Cheol Cho. Effects of heavy rainfall on the composition of airborne bacterial communities[J]. Front. Environ. Sci. Eng., 2018, 12(2): 12.
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Gwang Il Jang
Chung Yeon Hwang
Byung Cheol Cho
DateSample IDAir temp (°C)Relative
humidity (%)
Solar radiation
UV radiation
(cells/m3 for aerosol /
cells/mL for rain)
Apr 29A120.736.710.72224.553.0 × 105
Apr 30R111.5*82.0*1.0475.21.6 × 103
May 1A220.156.018.02693.01.3 × 105
May 8A330.530.424.83004.10.1 × 105
May 10R217.1*89.3*2.4836.60.1 × 103
May 12A417.362.910.63878.10.1 × 105
July 2A531.481.55.24242.00.04 × 105
July 3R323.2*92.1*1.9559.90.1 × 103
July 4A631.481.520.15049.90.01 × 105
Tab.1  Air temperature, relative humidity, bacterial abundance (BA) measured at an inland site (16 m above the ground and ~102 m above sea level; 37° 27′ 35″ N, 126° 56′ 59″ E) in 2011. Solar radiation data were from the Korea Metrological Administration (Songwol-dong, Jongno-gu in Seoul). Ultraviolet (UV) radiation data were from the Korea Global Atmosphere Watch Center (Anmyeon-Eup, ChungNam) located ca. 116 km from Seoul. Samples A and R represents aerosol and rain, respectively
Unclassified Bacteria7.936.508.7113.038.157.6512.6116.834.30
Caulobacterales (Caulobacteraceae)0.09 (0.09)0.11 (0.11)0.07 (0.07)0.88 (0.88)0.12 (0.12)
Rhodobacterales (Rhodobacteraceae)0.41 (0.41)0.04 (0.04)0.78 (0.78)0.44 (0.44)0.18 (0.18)0.04 (0.04)0.10 (0.10)
Methylophilales (Methylophilaceae)0.13 (0.13)0.13 (0.13)
Enterobacteriales (Enterobacteriaceae)3.76 (3.76)6.57 (6.57)8.58 (8.58)8.09 (8.09)0.85 (0.85)14.76 (14.76)2.41 (2.41)0.27 (0.27)
Xanthomonadales (Xanthomonadaceae)2.28 (2.28)0.68 (0.68)0.29 (0.29)0.68 (0.68)0.09 (–)
Campylobacterales (Arcobacter*)15.46 (15.46)7.70 (7.70)0.77 (0.77)0.63 (0.63)0.20 (0.20)0.05 (0.05)
Tab.2  Relative abundance of bacterial taxa in aerosol and rainwater samples collected at an inland site in 2011. Data were normalized by randomly subsampling to 327 reads in each sample 100 times and average values were used to calculate relative abundances. The relative abundance of each bacterial taxon which was identified using the RDP classifier (80% confidence) was calculated by dividing the numbers of reads assigned to each group by 327 per sample. Phylum, class, and order level classifications are highlighted in bold and their remaining taxa are classified to the level of family or genus. –: not detected. The description of sample IDs is the same as in Table 1
Fig.1  Distribution of the dominant (>1% of all reads) bacterial OTUs and the rare (<1% of all reads) bacterial OTUs detected by pyrosequencing of aerosol samples. Solid and hatched bars, respectively, represent proportions of dominant and rare OTUs affiliated with the same family or order. Bars in bold outlines represent the order Actinomycetales in the phylum Actinobacteria. In the parentheses, the numbers of OTUs belonging to each group are shown
Fig.2  Multidimensional scaling diagram of the bacterial community composition for the aerosol samples (April 29, A1; May 1, A2; May 8, A3; May 12, A4; July 2, A5; July 4, A6) and rainwater samples (April 30, R1; May 10, R2; July 3, R3 [10])
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