Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 185, Issue 1–4, pp 369–375

Preferential Attachment of Escherichia coli to Different Particle Size Fractions of an Agricultural Grassland Soil

  • David M. Oliver
  • Christopher D. Clegg
  • A. Louise Heathwaite
  • Philip M. Haygarth


This study reports on the attachment preference of a faecally derived bacterium, Escherichia coli, to soil particles of defined size fractions. In a batch sorption experiment using a clay loam soil it was found that 35% of introduced E. coli cells were associated with soil particulates >2 μm diameter. Of this 35%, most of the E. coli (14%) were found to be associated with the size fraction 15–4 μm. This was attributed to the larger number of particles within this size range and its consequently greater surface area available for attachment. When results were normalised with respect to estimates of the surface area available for bacterial cell attachment to each size fraction, it was found that E. coli preferentially attached to those soil particles within the size range 30–16 μm. For soil particles >2 μm, E. coli showed at least 3.9 times more preference to associate with the 30–16 μm than any other fraction. We report that E. coli can associate with different soil particle size fractions in varying proportions and that this is likely to impact on the hydrological transfer of cells through soil and have clear implications for our wider understanding of the attachment dynamics of faecally derived bacteria in soils of different compositions.


Agriculture Bacterial attachment E. coli Pollution Soil particles Sorption Water quality 


  1. Arriaga, F. J., Lowery, B., & Mays, M. D. (2006). A fast method for determining soil particle size distribution using a laser instrument. Soil Science, 171, 663–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Auer, M. T., & Niehaus, S. L. (1993). Modeling fecal coliform bacteria 1: Field and laboratory determination of loss kinetics. Water Research, 27, 693–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Borst, M., & Selvakumar, A. (2003). Particle-associated microorganisms in stormwater runoff. Water Research, 37, 215–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Characklis, G. W., Dilts, M. J., Simmons III, O. D., Likirdopulos, C. A., Krometis, L. A. H., & Sobsey, M. D. (2005). Microbial partitioning to settleable particles in stormwater. Water Research, 39, 1773–1782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Costerton, J. W., Geesey, G. G., & Cheng, K. J. (1978). How bacteria stick. Scientific American, 238, 86–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fiener, P., & Auerswald, K. (2003). Effectiveness of grassed waterways in reducing runoff and sediment delivery from agricultural watersheds. Journal of Environmental Quality, 32, 927–936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gannon, J. T., Mingelgrin, U., Alexander, M., & Wagenet, R. J. (1991). Bacterial transport through homogeneous soil. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 23, 1155–1160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Guber, A. K., Shelton, D. R., & Pachepsky, Y. A. (2005). Effect of manure on Escherichia coli attachment to soil. Journal of Environmental Quality, 34, 2086–2090.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Harrod, T. R. (1981). The soils of North Wyke and Rowden. Soil survey of England and Wales. Harpenden, UK: Grassland Research Institute.Google Scholar
  10. Jamieson, R., Joy, D. M., Lee, H., Kostaschuk, R., & Gordon, R. (2005). Transport and deposition of sediment-associated Escherichia coli in natural streams. Water Research, 39, 2665–2675.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kay, D., Edwards, A. C., Ferrier, R. C., Francis, C., Kay, C., Rushby, L. et al. (2007). Catchment microbial dynamics: The emergence of a research agenda. Progress in Physical Geography, 31, 59–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kuczynska, E, Shelton, D. R., & Pachepsky, Y. (2005). Effect of bovine manure on Cryptosporidium parvum oocyst attachment to soil. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 71, 6394–6397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ling, T. Y., Achberger, E. C., Drapcho, C. M., & Bengtson, R. L. (2002). Quantifying adsorption of an indicator bacteria in a soil–water system. Transactions of the ASAE, 45, 669–674.Google Scholar
  14. Lunsdorf, H., Erb, R. W., Abraham, W. R., & Timmis, K. N. (2000). ‘Clay hutches’: A novel interaction between bacteria and clay minerals. Environmental Microbiology, 2, 161–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Magesan, G. N., Bolan, N. S., & Lee, R. (2003). Adsorption of atrazine and phosphate as affected by soil depth in allophanic and non-allophanic soils. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 46, 155–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Marshall, K. C. (1975). Clay mineralogy in relation to survival of soil bacteria. Annual Review of Phytopathology, 13, 357–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. McCaulou, D. R., Bales, R. C., & Arnold, R. G. (1995). Effect of temperature controlled motility on transport of bacteria and microspheres through saturated sediment. Water Resources Research, 31, 271–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. McGechan, M. B., & Vinten, A. J. A. (2003). Simulation of transport through soil of E. coli derived from livestock slurry using the MACRO model. Soil Use and Management, 19, 321–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Muirhead, R. W., Collins, R. P., & Bremer, P. J. (2006a). The association of E. coli and soil particles in overland flow. Water Science and Technology, 54, 153–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Muirhead, R. W., Collins, R. P., & Bremer, P. J. (2006b). Interaction of Escherichia coli and soil particles in runoff. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 72, 3406–3411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nagels, J. W., Davies-Colley, R. J., Donnison, A. M., & Muirhead, R. W. (2002). Faecal contamination over flood events in a pastoral agricultural stream in New Zealand. Water Science and Technology, 45, 45–52.Google Scholar
  22. Oliver, D. M. (2005). Hydrological pathways and processes of Escherichia coli transfer from grassland soils to surface waters. Ph.D. thesis. Sheffield, England: University of Sheffield.Google Scholar
  23. Oliver, D. M., Clegg, C. D., Haygarth, P. M., & Heathwaite, A. L. (2005a). Assessing the potential for pathogen transfer from grassland soils to surface waters. Advances in Agronomy, 85, 125–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Oliver, D. M., Heathwaite, A. L., Haygarth, P. M., & Clegg, C. D. (2005b). Transfer of Escherichia coli to water from drained and undrained grassland after grazing. Journal of Environmental Quality, 34, 918–925.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Oliver, D. M., Heathwaite, A. L., Hodgson, C. J., & Chadwick, D. R. (2007). Mitigation and current management attempts to limit pathogen survival and movement within farmed grasslands. Advances in Agronomy, 93, 95–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Palmateer, G., McLean, D. E., Kutas, W. L., & Meissner, S. M. (1993). Suspended particulate/bacterial interaction in agricultural drains. In S. S. Rao (Ed.), Particulate matter and aquatic contaminants (pp. 1–40). Florida: CRC Press Inc.Google Scholar
  27. Schillinger, J. E., & Gannon, J. J. (1985). Bacterial adsorption and suspended particles in urban stormwater. Journal of the Water Pollution Control Federation, 57, 384–389.Google Scholar
  28. Signor, R. S., Roser, D. J., Ashbolt, N. J., & Ball, J. E. (2005). Quantifying the impact of runoff events on microbiological contaminant concentrations entering surface drinking source waters. Journal of Water and Health, 3, 453–468.Google Scholar
  29. Strenstrom, T. A. (1989). Bacterial hydrophobicity, an overall parameter for the measurement of adhesion potential to soil particles. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 55, 142–147.Google Scholar
  30. Tyrrel, S. F., & Quinton J. N. (2003). Overland flow transport of pathogens from agricultural land receiving faecal wastes. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 94, 87S–93S.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. USDA Soil Conservation Service (1975). Soil taxonomy: A basic system for soil classification for making and interpreting soil surveys. New York: USDA-SCS.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • David M. Oliver
    • 1
    • 2
  • Christopher D. Clegg
    • 1
  • A. Louise Heathwaite
    • 2
  • Philip M. Haygarth
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Grassland and Environmental ResearchNorth Wyke Research StationDevonUK
  2. 2.Centre for Sustainable Water Management, Lancaster Environment CentreLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

Personalised recommendations