Tracing fecal pollution sources in karst groundwater by Bacteroidales genetic biomarkers, bacterial indicators, and environmental variables

Ya Zhang, Walton R. Kelly, Samuel V. Panno, Wen Tso Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fecal contamination in Midwestern karst regions was evaluated by simultaneously measuring traditional bacterial indicators (coliforms and Escherichia coli), Bacteroidales-based biomarkers, and environmental variables. Water samples from springs and wells were collected from karst regions in Illinois (IL), Wisconsin (WI), Kentucky (KY), and Missouri (MO). Quantitative PCR (Q-PCR) with seven primer sets targeting different members of Bacteroidales was used to determine the origin of fecal contamination (i.e., from human waste, livestock waste, or both). Most samples were contaminated by both human and animal waste, with a few samples showing pollution solely by one or the other. Spring water tended to have higher levels of contamination than well water, and higher concentrations of fecal biomarkers were detected in urban springs compared to rural spring systems. However, there were discrepancies on contamination profile determined by Bacteroidales-based biomarkers and by traditional bacterial indicators. Among all the environmental parameters examined, E. coli, sulfate, total dissolved solids (TDS), and silicon were significantly correlated (p<0.05) with the level of Bacteroidales-based fecal indicators. A rapid screening method using total nitrogen (TN) and chloride (Cl-) concentrations to determine fecal contamination was shown to be effective and correlated well with Bacteroidales-based MST. The results suggest that human and livestock feces co-contaminated a large portion of karst groundwater systems in Midwestern regions, and the inclusion of traditional bacterial indicators, environmental variables, and Bacteroidales-based MST is an effective approach for identifying fecal contamination in karst regions. •Bacteroidales-based biomarkers are used for tracking fecal contamination in karst regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1082-1090
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Aug 15 2014


  • Bacterial indicators
  • Bacteroidales-based microbial source tracking
  • Environmental variables
  • Fecal contamination
  • Karst

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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