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Water Research
Vol. 47, No. 10, 2013; Pages: 3455–3466

Stimulation of fecal bacteria in ambient waters by experimental inputs of organic and inorganic phosphorus

Elizabeth A. Chudobaa, Michael A. Mallina, Lawrence B. Cahoonb, Stephen A. Skrabalc

Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, NC 28409, United States.


Fecal microbial pollution of recreational and shellfishing waters is a major human health and economic issue. Microbial pollution sourced from stormwater runoff is especially widespread, and strongly associated with urbanization. However, non-point source nutrient pollution is also problematic, and may come from sources different from fecal-derived pollution (i.e. fertilization of farm fields, lawns and gardens, and ornamental urban areas). Fecal bacteria require nutrients; thus the impact of such nutrient loading on survival and abundance of fecal coliform bacteria in ambient waters was experimentally investigated in a constructed wetland in coastal North Carolina, USA. A series of nutrient-addition bioassays testing impacts of inorganic and organic nitrogen and phosphorus demonstrated that additions of neither organic nor inorganic nitrogen stimulated fecal coliform bacteria. However, phosphorus additions provided significant stimulation of fecal coliform growth at times; on other occasions such additions did not. Dilution bioassays combined with nutrient additions were subsequently devised to assess potential impacts of microzooplankton grazing on the target fecal bacteria populations. Results demonstrated grazing to be a significant bacterial reduction factor in 63% of tests, potentially obscuring nutrient effects. Thus, combining dilution experiments with nutrient addition bioassays yielded simultaneous information on microzooplankton grazing rates on fecal bacteria, fecal bacterial growth rates, and nutrient limitation. Overall, when tested against a non-amended control, additions of either organic or inorganic phosphorus significantly stimulated fecal coliform bacterial growth on 50% of occasions tested, with organic phosphorus generally providing greater stimulation. The finding of significant phosphorus stimulation of fecal bacteria indicates that extraneous nutrient loading can, at times, augment the impacts of fecal microbial pollution of shellfishing and human contact waters.

Keywords:Fecal bacteria; Nutrients; Microzooplankton grazing; Dilutions; Bacterial growth rate.

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