Sources of faecal pollution in coastal recreational waters may be identified by analysing different host associated microorganisms or molecular markers. However, the microbial targets are often present at low numbers in moderately impacted waters, and often exhibit significant temporal and spatial variability in waters with fluctuating faecal loads. This patchy occurrence can limit successful detection of relevant targets in microbial source tracking studies. In this study, we explored the possibility for using the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) as a biosampler for accumulation of faecal bacteria relevant for microbial source tracking. Non-contaminated blue mussels were transferred to three coastal recreational waters affected by faecal pollution of unknown origin. Molecular markers associated with animal and human waste were targeted by PCR and compared in seawater and mussel samples. The results demonstrated that transplanted mussels in simple enclosures accumulated and retained elevated levels of molecular markers associated with different types of faecal pollution. The targets included a novel putative human associated E. coli subgroup B2 VIII clone, and animal and human associated markers in enterococci (esp, M19, M66, M90, and M91). Human (sewage) associated markers including esp and M66 were sometimes not detectable in seawater samples despite known wastewater contamination, whereas the markers were detectable in mussels. We suggest that transplanted mussels should be considered as potential biosamplers in studies focusing on identifying source of faecal pollution in low or moderately impacted recreational waters. Bioaccumulation of molecular markers in mussels for several days may represent the water quality better than traditional grab samples from the water column.
Keywords: faecal indicators, microbial source tracking, recreational waters, shellfish