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J Appl Microbiol. 2003;94(5):865-78.

Abundance and characteristics of the recreational water quality indicator bacteria Escherichia coli and enterococci in gull faeces.

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US Geological Survey, Lansing, MI 48911, USA.



To evaluate the numbers and selected phenotypic and genotypic characteristics of the faecal indicator bacteria Escherichia coli and enterococci in gull faeces at representative Great Lakes swimming beaches in the United States.


E. coli and enterococci were enumerated in gull faeces by membrane filtration. E. coli genotypes (rep-PCR genomic profiles) and E. coli (Vitek GNI+) and enterococci (API rapid ID 32 Strep and resistance to streptomycin, gentamicin, vancomycin, tetracycline and ampicillin) phenotypes were determined for isolates obtained from gull faeces both early and late in the swimming season. Identical E. coli genotypes were obtained only from single gull faecal samples but most faecal samples yielded more than one genotype (median of eight genotypes for samples with 10 isolates). E. coli isolates from the same site that clustered at >/=85% similarity were from the same sampling date and shared phenotypic characteristics, and at this similarity level there was population overlap between the two geographically isolated beach sites. Enterococcus API(R) profiles varied with sampling date. Gull enterococci displayed wide variation in antibiotic resistance patterns, and high-level resistance to some antibiotics.


Gull faeces could be a major contributor of E. coli (10(5)-10(9) CFU g(-1)) and enterococci (10(4)-10(8) CFU g(-)1) to Great Lakes recreational waters. E. coli and enterococci in gull faeces are highly variable with respect to their genotypic and phenotypic characteristics and may exhibit temporal or geographic trends in these features.


The high degree of variation in genotypic or phenotypic characteristics of E. coli or enterococci populations within gull hosts will require extensive sampling for adequate characterization, and will influence methods that use these characteristics to determine faecal contamination sources for recreational waters.

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