Graduation Year

2010

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Biology (Integrative Biology)

Major Professor

Valerie J. Harwood

Co-Major Professor

Cynthia Battie

Committee Member

Daniel V. Lim

Committee Member

John T. Lisle

Committee Member

Kathleen M. Scott

Keywords

Water Quality, Fecal Indicator Bacteria, Remediation, Sediment, Protozoa

Abstract

Water quality worldwide is assessed by enumeration of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) (fecal coliforms, Escherichia coli, and enterococci) intended to act as surrogates for human enteric pathogens. In environmental waters, this predictive relationship is confounded by many possible sources of FIB with varying implications for human health. Many physico-chemical and biological factors influence the fate of enteric pathogens and FIB in aquatic habitats, but are poorly understood, thus limiting our understanding of the usefulness of FIB as fecal pollution indicators.

These studies explored the field application of a “toolbox” approach to microbial source tracking (MST) intended to discriminate between human and non-human fecal pollution: a) in a Florida estuary used for shellfishing and recreational activities and b) at public beaches before and after remediation of wastewater infrastructure. Lastly, the effects of environmental factors (sediments, protozoa, sunlight) on survival of culturable E. coli were investigated in freshwater and seawater mesocosms simulating environmental conditions.

Detection of a human- associated MST marker (the esp gene of Enterococcus faecium) at sites with suspected sewage contamination indicated that human fecal pollution is impacting water quality in Wakulla County, while Lagrangian drifters designed to follow current and tidal movement suggested that local hydrology plays an important role in bacterial transport and deposition pathways.

Elevated FIB concentrations and frequent detection of human-associated MST markers (esp and human polyomaviruses) identified human sewage pollution at a public beach, facilitating remediation efforts (sewage main repair, removal of portable/abandoned restrooms), followed by significant decreases in FIB concentrations and MST marker detection. These studies show that comprehensive microbial water quality assessment can reliably identify contamination sources, thereby improving pollution mitigation and restoring recreational water quality.

Protozoan predation, freshwater vs. seawater habitat and sediment vs. water column location affected the concentration of culturable E. coli in outdoor mesocosms. Sediments offered a refuge from predation where freshwater vs. seawater habitat was amore important determinant of survival. These findings provide important insight into the ecology of E. coli and their natural predators in aquatic habitats and underscore the inherent effect different habitats play in their survival.

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