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Influence Of Environmental Gradients On The Abundance And Distribution Of Mycobacterium Spp. In A Coastal Lagoon Estuary

John Jacobs, Matt Rhodes, Brian Sturgis, Bob Wood

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ABSTRACT Environmental mycobacteria are of increasing concern in terms of the diseases they cause in both humans and animals. Although they are considered to be ubiquitous in aquatic environments, few studies have examined their ecology, and no ecological studies of coastal marine systems have been conducted. This study uses indirect gradient analysis to illustrate the strong relationships that exists between coastal water quality and the abundance of Mycobacterium spp. within a U.S. mid-Atlantic embayment. Mycobacterium species abundance and water quality conditions (based on 16 physical and chemical variables) were examined simultaneously in monthly samples obtained at 18 Maryland and Virginia coastal bay stations from August 2005 to November 2006 (n = 212). A quantitative molecular assay for Mycobacterium spp. was evaluated and applied, allowing for rapid, direct enumeration. By using indirect gradient analysis (environmental principal-components analysis), a strong linkage between eutrophic conditions, characterized by low dissolved-oxygen levels and elevated nutrient concentrations, and mycobacteria was determined. More specifically, a strong nutrient response was noted, with all nitrogen components and turbidity measurements correlating positively with abundance (r values of >0.30; P values of <0.001), while dissolved oxygen showed a strong negative relationship (r = −0.38; P = 0.01). Logistic regression models developed using salinity, dissolved oxygen, and total nitrogen showed a high degree of concordance (83%). These results suggest that coastal restoration and management strategies designed to reduce eutrophication may also reduce total mycobacteria in coastal waters.