High concentrations of Escherichia coli in mats of Cladophora in the Great Lakes have raised concern over the continued use of this bacterium as an indicator of microbial water quality. Determining the impacts of these environmentally abundant E. coli, however, necessitates a better understanding of their ecology. In this study, the population structure of 4285 Cladophora-borne E. coli isolates, obtained over multiple three day periods from Lake Michigan Cladophora mats in 2007-2009, was examined by using DNA fingerprint analyses. In contrast to previous studies that have been done using isolates from attached Cladophora obtained over large time scales and distances, the extensive sampling done here on free-floating mats over successive days at multiple sites provided a large dataset that allowed for a detailed examination of changes in population structure over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. While Cladophora-borne E. coli populations were highly diverse and consisted of many unique isolates, multiple clonal groups were also present and accounted for approximately 33% of all isolates examined. Patterns in population structure were also evident. At the broadest scales, E. coli populations showed some temporal clustering when examined by year, but did not show good spatial distinction among sites. E. coli population structure also showed significant patterns at much finer temporal scales. Populations were distinct on an individual mat basis at a given site, and on individual days within a single mat. Results of these studies indicate that Cladophora-borne E. coli populations consist of a mixture of stable, and possibly naturalized, strains that persist during the life of the mat, and more unique, transient strains that can change over rapid time scales. It is clear that further study of microbial processes at fine spatial and temporal scales is needed, and that caution must be taken when interpolating short term microbial dynamics from results obtained from weekly or monthly samples.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This study was supported, in part, from grants from the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Research Program and from the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station (to MJS). This article is contribution number 1607 of the USGS Great Lakes Science Center.
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- E. coli
- Great Lakes
- Indicator bacteria
- Population structure