Assessing the Persistence and Multiplication of Fecal Indicator Bacteria in Hawai'i Soil Environment

Byappananhalli, Muruleedhara N.
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Water Resources Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa
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Traditional fecal indicator bacteria such as fecal coliform, E.coli and enterococci have been shown to be unreliable indicators of the hygienic quality of recreational waters under tropical conditions. One of the major reasons for considering these bacteria as ineffective indicators of water quality in warm, tropical regions is that they are consistently found in natural environments (plants, soil, water) in the absence of any significant contamination of these environments. Since preliminary studies conducted in Hawaii had indicated soil as the major environmental source of elevated concentrations of these bacteria in environmental waters, the aim of this study was to focus on the soil environment to specifically address two assumptions made by regulatory agencies in using fecal bacteria as indicators of water quality: first, there should not be an environmental source of these indicator bacteria unrelated to sewage or fecal matter contamination, and second, the indicator bacteria do not multiply in the environment. To determine the validity of these two assumptions under tropical conditions in Hawaii and possibly other tropical locations, various experiments were conducted. The major findings are as follows. 1) Analysis of soil samples collected from various locations representing major soil groups on the island of Oahu showed that fecal indicator bacteria are naturally found in most of the soil environments, indicating that the fecal bacteria have adapted to the soil conditions to become part of soil biota. 2) Evidence was obtained to show that the soil contains adequate nutrients to sustain the populations of these bacteria. 3) Growth and multiplication of fecal indicator bacteria in natural soil was dependent on available nutrients (particularly carbon), moisture and competing microorganisms. In conclusion, tropical soil conditions are suboptimal for the multiplication of fecal indicator bacteria. Consequently, these bacteria in natural soil conditions will probably grow and multiply sporadically when conditions are relatively optimal. Although concentrations of fecal indicator bacteria in soil represent only a small fraction of the microbiota, their counts are significant enough in numbers not only to impact the quality of recreational waters but also to nullify two of the assumptions used in the application of recreational water quality standards. Thus, there is a need for an alternate and more reliable indicator of water quality in Hawaii and other tropical locations.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 227-244).
Enterobacteriaceae--Environmental aspects--Hawaii., Soil microbiology--Hawaii., Environmental indicators--Hawaii.
Byappanahalli, MN. 2000. Assessing the persistence and multiplication of fecal indicator bacteria in hawai'i soil environment. Honolulu (HI): Water Resources Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
xxv + 244 pages
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Theses for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (University of Hawaii at Manoa). Microbiology; no. 4010
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