Microbial source tracking to identify human and ruminant sources of faecal pollution in an ephemeral Florida river

E. Chase, J. Hunting, C. Staley, V. J. Harwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Aims: Levels and sources of faecal indicator bacteria (FIB) in an ephemeral Florida river were assessed under different rainfall/flow patterns to explore the effects of rainfall on water quality. Methods and Results: Quantitative PCR for sewage markers [human-associated Bacteroides HF183 and human polyomaviruses (HPyVs)] and PCR for ruminant faecal markers were used to explore contamination sources. Escherichia coli, faecal coliform and enterococci levels consistently exceeded recreational water quality criteria, and sediment FIB levels were about 100-fold higher compared with water. HPyVs detections cooccurred with HF183, which was frequently detected near septic systems. Ruminant markers were detected only in livestock-grazing areas. Significantly greater faecal coliform and E. coli concentrations were observed under no-flow conditions and the levels of faecal coliforms in water column and sediments were negatively correlated with duration since last rain event. Conclusions: Septic systems and cattle grazing in this watershed contributed to the formation of FIB reservoirs in sediments, which were persistent following prolonged rainfall. Significance and Impact of the Study: Ephemeral water bodies that flow only under the direct influence of recent rainfall are rarely studied. FIB levels in the New River in Florida were greater during dry weather than wet weather, which contrasts with most observations and may be attributed to bacterial reservoirs formed in still pool, sediments and water-saturated soils in this subtropical environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1396-1406
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Microbiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Environmental/recreational water
  • Indicators
  • Microbial contamination
  • Wastewater
  • Water quality

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