Context. The role of wildlife in faecal pollution of water bodies (deposition of Escherichia coli (E. coli)) is not well understood. Current water-quality and land-use planning research largely relies on unreliable wildlife data (e.g. poor sourcing of abundance estimates, population density estimates applied to multiple fundamentally different areas, suspect or insufficiently described data collection techniques)
Aims. Our goal for the present research was to investigate deposition of E. coli into a floodplain by free-ranging mammals. Objectives of the research were to determine the density of important free-ranging meso- and large mammals in the study area, determine faecal E. coli loads for each species, and evaluate spatial data on species-specific faecal deposition.
Methods. We conducted our research in south-eastern Texas, USA, on two cattle ranches bisected by Cedar Creek (44-km long). Cedar Creek has elevated E. coli concentrations. We conducted mark–recapture and mark–resight population density estimates (2008/09) for meso- and large mammals in the study areas. We collected faecal samples from all captured wildlife. We also conducted transects through the study area to determine faecal-deposition patterns.
Key results. We found that raccoons (Procyon lotor), wild pigs (Sus scrofa), Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) all had substantial faecal E. coli loads and population densities, thus implying an important role in E. coli deposition into the study floodplain. All species were widely distributed through the floodplain.
Conclusions. Free-ranging mammals contribute E. coli to floodplains and potentially affect water quality. We determined that four species commonly found in floodplains throughout North America all contributed E. coli to the study floodplain, thus implying mammal E. coli contributions in many locations and this is potentially important for E. coli management.
Implications. Improved locally specific mammal population estimates and estimates of locally derived E. coli concentration will improve floodplain and water-quality models that often depend on data of various quality. Additionally, our analyses demonstrated the need for continued research into the role of wildlife in E. coli deposition.