Sediment Composition Influences Spatial Variation in the Abundance of Human Pathogen Indicator Bacteria within an Estuarine Environment.

PloS one

PubMedID: 25397595

Perkins TL, Clements K, Baas JH, Jago CF, Jones DL, Malham SK, McDonald JE. Sediment Composition Influences Spatial Variation in the Abundance of Human Pathogen Indicator Bacteria within an Estuarine Environment. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(11):e112951.
Faecal contamination of estuarine and coastal waters can pose a risk to human health, particularly in areas used for shellfish production or recreation. Routine microbiological water quality testing highlights areas of faecal indicator bacteria (FIB) contamination within the water column, but fails to consider the abundance of FIB in sediments, which under certain hydrodynamic conditions can become resuspended. Sediments can enhance the survival of FIB in estuarine environments, but the influence of sediment composition on the ecology and abundance of FIB is poorly understood. To determine the relationship between sediment composition (grain size and organic matter) and the abundance of pathogen indicator bacteria (PIB), sediments were collected from four transverse transects of the Conwy estuary, UK. The abundance of culturable Escherichia coli, total coliforms, enterococci, Campylobacter, Salmonella and Vibrio spp. in sediments was determined in relation to sediment grain size, organic matter content, salinity, depth and temperature. Sediments that contained higher proportions of silt and/or clay and associated organic matter content showed significant positive correlations with the abundance of PIB. Furthermore, the abundance of each bacterial group was positively correlated with the presence of all other groups enumerated. Campylobacter spp. were not isolated from estuarine sediments. Comparisons of the number of culturable E. coli, total coliforms and Vibrio spp. in sediments and the water column revealed that their abundance was 281, 433 and 58-fold greater in sediments (colony forming units (CFU)/100g) when compared with the water column (CFU/100ml), respectively. These data provide important insights into sediment compositions that promote the abundance of PIB in estuarine environments, with important implications for the modelling and prediction of public health risk based on sediment resuspension and transport.