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Performance comparison of plant root biofilm, gravel attached biofilm and planktonic microbial populations, in phenol removal within a constructed wetland wastewater treatment system

Eyal Kurzbaum
Felix Kirzhner
Robert Armon


This study was performed in order to understand the relative contribution of a constructed wetland (CW) system’s various components to phenol degradation (100 mg∙L–1) under controlled plant biomass/gravel/ water experimental ratios. This was done by division of a pilot-scale CW system into its components, with or without their associated bacteria: (i) gravel, plant and water; (ii) gravel and water; (iii) water; (iv) gravel; (v) plant; (vi) control (sterile water). The highest phenol biodegradation rate occurred for the gravel-attached biofilm followed by root-attached biofilm and planktonic population, which recorded a similar rate to each other and a much lower rate than the gravel-attached biofilm. A control containing CW planktonic inactivated bacteria (autoclaved water) did not impact phenol removal, revealing that microbial populations are the major factor in phenol removal. The differences in the phenol removal achieved could be attributed to higher numbers of specific phenol degraders on the gravel surface, compared to lower numbers of root-attached and planktonic bacterial fractions, as isolated using phenol-agar plates which contained phenol as the sole carbon source. The main contributor to our findings appears to be the larger surface area provided by the gravel bed compared to plant roots.

Keywords: biofilm; constructed wetland; gravel; microbial activity; phenol

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eISSN: 1816-7950
print ISSN: 0378-4738