Aims: This study evaluated the applicability of standard faecal indicator bacteria (SFIB) for alpine mountainous water resources monitoring.
Methods and Results: Escherichia coli, enterococci (ENTC) and Clostridium perfringens were investigated by standard or frequently applied phenotypic and genotypic methods in a broad range of animal and human faecal sources in a large alpine mountainous area. Clostridium perfringens occurred only in human, livestock and carnivorous source groups in relevant average concentrations (log 4·7–7·0 CFU g−1) but not in herbivorous wildlife sources. Escherichia coli proved to be distributed in all faecal source groups with remarkably balanced average concentrations (log 7·0–8·4 CFU g−1). Except for single faecal samples from the cattle source group, prevalence rates for ENTC source groups were generally >87% with average concentrations of log 5·3–7·7 CFU g−1. To test the faecal indication capacity in the environment, faecal prevalence data were comparatively analysed with results from the concurrently performed multi-parametric microbial source tracking effort on karst spring water quality from the investigated alpine mountainous catchment (Reischer et al. 2008; Environ Microbiol 10:2598–2608).
Conclusion: Escherichia coli and enterococci are reliable faecal indicators for alpine mountainous water resources monitoring, although E. coli is the more sensitive one. Clostridium perfringens did not prove to be an indicator of general faecal pollution but is suggested a conservative microbial source tracking marker for anthropogenic faecal influence.
Significance and Impact of the Study: Applicability of SFIB is currently hotly debated. This is the first study providing comprehensive information on the applicability of SFIB at alpine mountainous habitats.