Escherichia coli and enterococci are sensitive and reliable indicators for human, livestock and wildlife faecal pollution in alpine mountainous water resources

A. H. Farnleitner*, G. Ryzinska-Paier, G. H. Reischer, M. M. Burtscher, S. Knetsch, A. K.T. Kirschner, T. Dirnböck, G. Kuschnig, R. L. Mach, R. Sommer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

71 Citations (Scopus)


Aims: This study evaluated the applicability of standard faecal indicator bacteria (SFIB) for alpine mountainous water resources monitoring.Methods and Results: Escherichia coli, enterococci (ENTC) and Clostridium perfringens were investigated by standard or frequently applied phenotypic and genotypic methods in a broad range of animal and human faecal sources in a large alpine mountainous area. Clostridium perfringens occurred only in human, livestock and carnivorous source groups in relevant average concentrations (log 4.7-7.0 CFU g-1) but not in herbivorous wildlife sources. Escherichia coli proved to be distributed in all faecal source groups with remarkably balanced average concentrations (log 7.0-8.4 CFU g-1). Except for single faecal samples from the cattle source group, prevalence rates for ENTC source groups were generally >87% with average concentrations of log 5.3-7.7 CFU g-1. To test the faecal indication capacity in the environment, faecal prevalence data were comparatively analysed with results from the concurrently performed multi-parametric microbial source tracking effort on karst spring water quality from the investigated alpine mountainous catchment (; Environ Microbiol 10:2598-2608).Conclusion: Escherichia coli and enterococci are reliable faecal indicators for alpine mountainous water resources monitoring, although E. coli is the more sensitive one. Clostridium perfringens did not prove to be an indicator of general faecal pollution but is suggested a conservative microbial source tracking marker for anthropogenic faecal influence.Significance and Impact of the Study: Applicability of SFIB is currently hotly debated. This is the first study providing comprehensive information on the applicability of SFIB at alpine mountainous habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1599-1608
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Applied Microbiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Enterococci
  • Escherichia coli
  • General faecal pollution indicators
  • Microbial source tracking marker
  • Water quality monitoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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