Changes in microbial community structure in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Academic Article uri icon


  • Hurricanes have the potential to alter the structures of coastal ecosystems and generate pathogen-laden floodwaters thatthreaten public health. To examine the impact of hurricanes on urban systems, we compared microbial community structures in samples collected after Hurricane Katrina and before and after Hurricane Rita. We extracted environmental DNA and sequenced small-subunit rRNA (SSU rRNA) gene clone libraries to survey microbial communities in floodwater, water, and sediment samples collected from Lake Charles, Lake Pontchartrain, the 17th Street and Industrial Canals in New Orleans, and raw sewage. Correspondence analysis showed that microbial communities associated with sediments formed one cluster while communities associated with lake and Industrial Canal water formed a second. Communities associated with water from the 17th Street Canal and floodwaters collected in New Orleans showed similarity to communities in raw sewage and contained a number of sequences associated with possible pathogenic microbes. This suggests that a distinct microbial community developed in floodwaters following Hurricane Katrina and that microbial community structures as a whole might be sensitive indicators of ecosystem health and serve as "sentinels" of water quality in the environment.

publication date

  • December 15, 2008