Integral strategy for evaluation of fecal indicator performance in bird-influenced saline inland waters

Alexander K.T. Kirschner*, Thomas C. Zechmeister, Gerhard G. Kavka, Christian Beiwl, Alois Herzig, Robert L. Mach, Andreas H. Farnleitner

*Corresponding author for this work

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

34 Citations (Scopus)


Wild birds are an important nonpoint source of fecal contamination of surface waters, but their contribution to fecal pollution is mostly difficult to estimate. Thus, to evaluate the relation between feces production and input of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) into aquatic environments by wild waterfowl, we introduced a new holistic approach for evaluating the performance of FIB in six shallow saline habitats. For this, we monitored bird abundance, fecal pellet production, and the abundance of FIB concomitantly with a set of environmental variables over a 9-month period. For estimating fecal pellet production, a new protocol of fecal pellet counting was introduced, which was called fecal taxation (FTX). We could show that, over the whole range of investigated habitats, bird abundance, FTX values, and FIB abundance were highly significantly correlated and could demonstrate the good applicability of the FTX as a meaningful surrogate parameter for recent bird abundances and fecal contamination by birds in shallow aquatic ecosystems. Presumptive enterococci (ENT) were an excellent surrogate parameter of recent fecal contamination in these saline environments for samples collected at biweekly to monthly sampling intervals while presumptive Escherichia coli and fecal coliforms (FC) were often undetectable. Significant negative correlations with salinity indicated that E. coli and FC survival was hampered by osmotic stress. Statistical analyses further revealed that fecal pollution-associated parameters represented one system component independent from other environmental variables and that, besides feces production, rainfall, total suspended solids (direct), and trophy (indirect) had significant positive effects on ENT concentrations. Our holistic approach of linking bird abundance, feces production, and FIB detection with environmental variables may serve as a powerful model for application to other aquatic ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7396-7403
Number of pages8
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Ecology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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