We evaluated benthic bacterial communities as bioindicators in environmental impact assessments of salmon aquaculture, a rapidly growing sector of seafood industry. Sediment samples (n=72) were collected from below salmon cages towards distant reference sites. Bacterial community profiles inferred from DNA metabarcodes were compared to reference data from standard macrofauna biomonitoring surveys of the same samples. Deltaproteobacteria were predominant in immediate vicinity of the salmon cages. Along the transect, significant shifts in bacterial community structures were observed with Gammaproteobacteria dominating the less-impacted sites. Alpha- and beta-diversity measures of bacterial communities correlated significantly with macrofauna diversity metrics and with five ecological status indices. Benthic bacterial communities mirror the reaction of macrofauna bioindicators to environmental disturbances caused by salmon farming. The implementation of bacterial eDNA metabarcoding in future Strategic Framework Directives is an alternative cost-effective high-throughput biomonitoring solution, providing a basis for management strategies in a matter of days rather than months.
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