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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Apr;78(8):2569-77. doi: 10.1128/AEM.06902-11. Epub 2012 Feb 10.

Persistence and growth of the fecal indicator bacteria enterococci in detritus and natural estuarine plankton communities.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Health Science, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA.


Enterococci are used to evaluate recreational-water quality and health risks in marine environments. In addition to their occurrence in feces of warm blooded animals, they are also common epiphytes. We investigated the contribution of plankton- or particle-associated enterococci in estuarine and coastal water. Seven water and size-fractionated plankton samples were collected monthly between April 2008 and January 2009 in the tidal reaches of the Skidaway River (Georgia, USA). Each size fraction, along with filtered (<30 μm) and bulk estuarine water, was processed according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency method 1600. Presumptive enterococci were selected and species were identified using carbon substrate utilization patterns. The highest average densities occurred within the 30-, 63-, 105-, and 150-μm size fractions, which also represented the majority (>99%) of the particles within the sampled water. Particle-associated enterococci accounted for as little as 1% of enterococci in bulk water in April to as much as 95% in July. Enterococcus faecalis was the most commonly isolated species from both water and plankton and represented 31% (16/51) and 35% (6/17) of the identified Enterococcus species from water and plankton, respectively. Enterococcus casseliflavus represented 29% of the selected isolates from plankton and 16% from water. Both E. faecalis and E. casseliflavus were able to survive and grow in plankton suspensions significantly longer than in artificial seawater. Enterococcus spp. may be highly concentrated in plankton and associated particles, especially during summer and fall months. These findings could have implications for the effectiveness of enterococci as an indicator of coastal water quality, especially in particle-rich environments.

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