Compositional and temporal stability of fecal taxon libraries for use with SourceTracker in sub-tropical catchments

Christian O'Dea, Qian Zhang, Christopher Staley, Nicole Masters, Anna Kuballa, Paul Fisher, Cameron Veal, H. Stratton, Michael J. Sadowsky, Warish Ahmed, Mohammad Katouli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Characterization of microbial communities using high-throughput amplicon sequencing is an emerging approach for microbial source tracking of fecal pollution. This study used SourceTracker software to examine temporal and geographical variability of fecal bacterial community profiles to identify pollutant sources in three freshwater catchments in sub-tropical Australia. Fecal bacterial communities from 10 animal species, humans, and composite wastewater samples from six sewage treatment plants were characterized and compared to freshwater samples using Illumina amplicon sequencing of the V5–V6 regions of the 16S rRNA gene. Source contributions were calculated in SourceTracker using new fecal taxon libraries as well as previously generated libraries to determine the effects of geographic and temporal variability on source assignments. SourceTracker determined 16S rRNA bacterial communites within freshwater samples, shared taxonomic similarities to that of wastewater at low levels (typically <3%). SourceTraker also predicted occasional fecal detection of deer and flying fox sources in the water samples. No significant differences in source contributions were observed within sequences from current and previously characterized fecal samples (P ≥ 0.107). However, significant differences were observed between previously characterized and newly characterized source communities (ANOSIM P ≤ 0.001), which shared <15% community composition. Results suggest temporal instability of fecal taxon libraries among tested sources and highlight continual evaluation of community-based MST using confirmatory qPCR analyses of marker genes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114967
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - Nov 15 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded, in part, by Seqwater [top-up scholarship 4530–17] for study design of local library sampling locations and target animals within the study.


  • 16S rRNA
  • Amplicon sequencing
  • Microbial source tracking
  • SourceTracker
  • Wastewater

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