Characteristics of Marine Aggregates in Shallow-water Ecosystems: Implications for Disease Ecology
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Marine aggregates were evaluated for their potential role in the ecology of aquatic pathogens using underwater video surveys coupled with direct collection of aggregates in modified settling cones. Six locations, two each in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, were surveyed over 8 months to explore differences in the characteristics of aggregates found in habitats populated by clams (Mercenaria mercenaria) and oysters (Crassostrea virginica). Microaggregate (<500 μm) concentrations were always greater than macroaggregate (>500 μm) concentrations, but peak concentrations of macroaggregates and microaggregates, mean size of particles, and volume fraction of aggregated material varied among the six shallow-water habitats. Concentrations (colony-forming units per ml) of total heterotrophic bacteria (THB) and total mesophilic pathogenic bacteria (MPB) from samples of aggregates were significantly different among the four locations bordering Long Island Sound (LIS). The highest concentrations and enrichment factors in aggregates were observed in August for THB and in June for MPB. Significant correlations were detected for salinity and the concentrations and enrichment factors of THB in aggregates and for the concentrations and percentages of MPB in seawater samples. Significant correlations were also detected for temperature and the concentrations of MPB in aggregates and the enrichment factors for THB and MPB (marginal significance). Bacterial species identified in association with aggregates included: Vibrio cholerea, V. parahaemolyticus, V. vulnificus, V. alginolyticus, Aeromonas hydrophila, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, and Mycobacteria sp. These results have important implications for the way in which aquatic pathogens are collected, quantified, and monitored for risk-based surveillance in shallow-water ecosystems.