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Re-shaping models of E. coli population dynamics in livestock faeces: increased bacterial risk to humans?

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date01/2010
JournalEnvironmental International
Journal number1
Volume36
Number of pages7
Pages1-7
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Dung-pats excreted directly on pasture from grazing animals can contribute a significant burden of faecal microbes to agricultural land. The aim of this study was to use a combined field and modelling approach to determine the importance of Escherichia coli growth in dung-pats when predicting faecal bacteria accumulation on grazed grassland. To do this an empirical model was developed to predict the dynamics of an E. coli reservoir within 1 ha plots each grazed by four beef steers for six months. Published first-order die-off coefficients were used within the model to describe the expected decline of E. coli in dung-pats. Modelled estimates using first-order kinetics led to an underestimation of the observed E. coli land reservoir, when using site specific die-off coefficients. A simultaneous experiment determined the die-off profiles of E. coli within fresh faeces of beef cattle under field-relevant conditions and suggested that faecal bacteria may experience growth and re-growth in the period post-defecation when exposed to a complex interaction of environmental drivers such as variable temperature, UV radiation and moisture levels. This growth phase in dung-pats is not accounted for in models based on first-order die-off coefficients. When the model was amended to incorporate the growth of E. coli, equivalent to that observed in the field study, the prediction of the E. coli reservoir was improved with respect to the observed data and produced a previously unquantified step-change improvement in model predictions of the accumulation of these faecal bacteria on grasslands. Results from this study suggest that the use of first-order kinetic equations for determining land-based reservoirs of faecal bacteria should be approached with caution and greater emphasis placed on accounting for actual survival patterns observed under field relevant conditions.