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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 Dec;77(24):8765-74. doi: 10.1128/AEM.06044-11. Epub 2011 Oct 14.

Test of direct and indirect effects of agrochemicals on the survival of fecal indicator bacteria.

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


Water bodies often receive agrochemicals and animal waste carrying fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) and zoonotic pathogens, but we know little about the effects of agrochemicals on these microbes. We assessed the direct effects of the pesticides atrazine, malathion, and chlorothalonil and inorganic fertilizer on Escherichia coli and enterococcal survival in simplified microcosms held in the dark. E. coli strain composition in sediments and water column were positively correlated, but none of the agrochemicals had significant direct effects on E. coli strain composition or on densities of culturable FIBs. In a companion study, microcosms with nondisinfected pond water and sediments were exposed to or shielded from sunlight to examine the potential indirect effects of atrazine and inorganic fertilizer on E. coli. The herbicide atrazine had no effect on E. coli in dark-exposed microcosms containing natural microbial and algal communities. However, in light-exposed microcosms, atrazine significantly lowered E. coli densities in the water column and significantly increased densities in the sediment compared to controls. This effect appears to be mediated by the effects of atrazine on algae, given that atrazine significantly reduced phytoplankton, which was a positive and negative predictor of E. coli densities in the water column and sediment, respectively. These data suggest that atrazine does not directly affect the survival of FIB, rather that it indirectly alters the distribution and abundance of E. coli by altering phytoplankton and periphyton communities. These results improve our understanding of the influence of agricultural practices on FIB densities in water bodies impacted by agricultural runoff.

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