Land use and hydroclimatic influences on Faecal Indicator Organisms in two large Scottish catchments: towards land use-based models as screening tools

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Abstract

Faecal Coliform (FC) bacteria were used as Faecal Indicator Organisms (FIOs) for assessment of microbiological pollution risk in two large, mixed land use catchments in Scotland. FC counts varied spatially in relation to land use and human population and resulting trophic status. These were highest in catchments with a high cover of improved pasture (which was assumed to be a proxy for cattle and sheep grazing densities) and significant human populations. FC counts were lowest in oligotrophic upland areas, where domesticated animal populations were low. In both lowland and upland catchments, peak FC counts occurred under periods of elevated flows during summer. However, in lowland agricultural catchments of higher trophic status, contamination appears to be chronic and occurs all year round. In contrast, upland headwater catchments exhibit more episodic peaks in relation to high flow events. Larger scale catchments integrate the inputs from contrasting head water streams. Spatial variations in stream FC concentrations can be predicted to a first approximation using multiple regression based on catchment characteristics. Land cover was the most important factor, with percentage improved pasture being the primary control and human population being of secondary importance. These two factors could explain 78% of the variation in mean annual FC concentrations and 65% of the 95th percentile. This simple linear model provides a screening tool for rapid assessment of pollution risk in unmonitored catchments. However, improved prediction of short-term dynamics and peak values requires higher resolution sampling and process-based models of FC production, survival and transport. A particularly important need is an improved characterisation of the hydrological connectivity which controls the flux from pollutant reservoirs on the landscape into river channel networks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-122
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume434
Early online date20 Jan 2012
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2012

Keywords

  • microbiological flux
  • trophic status
  • bacteria
  • seasonality
  • pollution risk

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