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Multiparametric monitoring of microbial faecal pollution reveals the dominance of human contamination along the whole Danube River

Journal article
Authors A. K. T. Kirschner
G. H. Reischer
S. Jakwerth
D. Savio
S. Ixenmaier
E. Toth
R. Sommer
R. L. Mach
R. Linke
Alexander Eiler
S. Kolarevic
A. H. Farnleitner
Published in Water Research
Volume 124
Pages 543-555
ISSN 0043-1354
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology
Pages 543-555
Language en
Keywords Standard faecal indicator bacteria, Microbial source tracking, Host associated genetic faecal markers, real-time pcr, ribosomal-rna gene, source tracking, water, assays, bacteroidales, markers, network, Engineering, Environmental Sciences & Ecology, Water Resources
Subject categories Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources, Ecology, Environmental engineering, Environmental Sciences


The microbial faecal pollution of rivers has wide-ranging impacts on a variety of human activities that rely on appropriate river water quality. Thus, detailed knowledge of the extent and origin of microbial faecal pollution is crucial for watershed management activities to maintain safe water use. In this study, the microbial faecal pollution levels were monitored by standard faecal indicator bacteria (SFIB) along a 2580 km stretch of the Danube, the world's most international river, as well as the Danube's most important tributaries. To track the origin of faecal pollution, host-associated Bacteroidetes genetic faecal marker qPCR assays for different host groups were applied in concert with. SFIB. The. spatial resolution analysis was followed by a time resolution analysis of faecal pollution patterns over 1 year at three selected sites. In this way, a comprehensive faecal pollution map of the total length of the Danube was created, combining substantiated information on both the extent and origin of microbial faecal pollution. Within the environmental data matrix for the river, microbial faecal pollution constituted an independent component and did not cluster with any other measured environmental parameters. Generally, midstream samples representatively depicted the microbial pollution levels at the respective river sites. However, at a few, somewhat unexpected sites, high pollution levels occurred in the lateral zones of the river while the midstream zone had good water quality. Human faecal pollution was demonstrated as the primary pollution source along the whole river, while animal faecal pollution was of minor importance. This study demonstrates that the application of host-associated genetic microbial source tracking markers in concert with the traditional concept of microbial faecal pollution monitoring based on SFIB significantly enhances the knowledge of the extent and origin of microbial faecal pollution patterns in large rivers. It constitutes a powerful tool to guide target-oriented water quality management in large river basins. (C) 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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