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Environ Microbiol. 2011 Apr;13(4):932-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2010.02397.x. Epub 2011 Jan 5.

Quantifying environmental reservoirs of fecal indicator bacteria associated with sediment and submerged aquatic vegetation.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33620, USA.


Elevated concentrations of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) in aquatic sediments and vegetation have prompted concern that environmental reservoirs of FIB disrupt the correlation between indicator organisms, pathogens and human health risks. FIB numbers, however, are typically normalized to volume of water or mass of substrate. Because these reservoirs tend to differ greatly in magnitude within and between water bodies, direct comparison between water column and benthic population sizes can be problematic. Normalization to a set volume of water or mass of substrate, e.g. cfu (100 ml)(-1) or cfu(100 g)(-1), can give a false picture of the relative contributions of various reservoirs to FIB numbers across the ecosystem, and of the potential for FIBs to trigger health advisories as they pass from one reservoir to another. Here, we normalized enterococci concentrations from water, sediment and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) to land surface area (m(2) ) to compare their relative importance in the entire system. SAV-associated enterococci comprised only 0-18% of the entire population, even though they displayed the highest concentrations of enterococci per unit mass. The largest proportion of the enterococci population was in the water column (4-77%) or sediments (20-95%), depending on the volume of each substrate available at a site and FIB concentrations within them. Models indicated that large shifts in the relative size of FIB populations in each substrate can result from changes in per cent SAV cover, water depth and depth of sediment colonization. It follows that high concentrations of FIB in sediments or SAV do not necessarily signify large environmental reservoirs of FIB that can affect the water column. Comprehensive analyses that include FIB measurements from water, SAV and sediment normalized to land surface area offer a more balanced perspective on total FIB numbers contained in various matrices of an aquatic system.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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