Microbial Ecology

, Volume 68, Issue 4, pp 751–760 | Cite as

Protozoan Predation Is Differentially Affected by Motility of Enteric Pathogens in Water vs. Sediments

  • Pauline Wanjugi
  • Valerie J. HarwoodEmail author
Environmental Microbiology


Survival of enteric bacteria in aquatic habitats varies depending upon species, strain, and environmental pressures, but the mechanisms governing their fate are poorly understood. Although predation by protozoa is a known, top-down control mechanism on bacterial populations, its influence on the survival of fecal-derived pathogens has not been systematically studied. We hypothesized that motility, a variable trait among pathogens, can influence predation rates and bacterial survival. We compared the survival of two motile pathogens of fecal origin by culturing Escherichia coli O157 and Salmonella enterica Typhimurium. Each species had a motile and non-motile counterpart and was cultured in outdoor microcosms with protozoan predators (Tetrahymena pyriformis) present or absent. Motility had a significant, positive effect on S. enterica levels in water and sediment in the presence or absence of predators. In contrast, motility had a significant negative effect on E. coli O157 levels in sediment, but did not affect water column levels. The presence/absence of protozoa consistently accounted for a greater proportion of the variability in bacterial levels (>95 %) than in bacterial motility (<4 %) in the water column. In sediments, however, motility was more important than predation for both bacteria. Calculations of total CFU/microcosm showed decreasing bacterial concentrations over time under all conditions except for S. enterica in the absence of predation, which increased ∼0.5–1.0 log over 5 days. These findings underscore the complexity of predicting the survival of enteric microorganisms in aquatic habitats, which has implications for the accuracy of risk assessment and modeling of water quality.


Enteric Bacterium O157 Strain Motile Bacterium Total Bacterial Number Spatial Block 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to acknowledge Dr. James Riordan (University of South Florida) for providing us with the E. coli O157 strains. We would also like to thank Laura Walker and Dr. Gordon Fox for affording us access and green house space at the USF Botanical Gardens, respectively. Lastly, we would like to acknowledge all the members of the Harwood lab for all their help with this research.

Supplementary material

248_2014_444_MOESM1_ESM.docx (73 kb)
Fig. S1 (DOCX 73 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

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