Current Graduate Research

Application of fecal indicator bacteria and host-specific genetic markers for microbial source tracking of bacterial contamination in a high use Wilderness Area

Daniel P. Pendergraph1, John Raineri2, Lochlin Ermatinger3

1The Wilderness Institute, Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula

2Flathead Lake Biological Station, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Polson, Mt USA

3Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, Mt USA


Recreational impacts to water resources are extensive and well-studied in protected areas globally. Bacterial contamination, specifically fecal bacteria, poses an imminent threat to human health because of the risk for outbreaks of illness and disease. Water sources in designated Wilderness areas are particularly vulnerable to fecal water contamination due to high volumes of backpackers and lack of backcountry facilities. To determine the occurrence of fecal water contamination in Wilderness water resources, an exploratory analysis was conducted at various water sources across the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, MT/WY using fecal indicator bacterium (FIB), total coliform/E.coli. At sites that tested positive for the FIB, microbial source tracking (MST) via ddPCR was conducted using a human-specific Bacteroides marker (BacHu) and a universal Bacteroides marker (AllBac) to determine the contribution of humans to total Bacteroides contamination in water sources. Total coliform/E.coli was detected at 11 popular alpine lake outlets. At these contaminated lakes, MST revealed human contribution to the fecal water contamination profile ranged from .2 to 60% across water sources. The results of this study suggest a need for the further exploration of the spatial and temporal dynamics of fecal water contamination from recreation in designated Wilderness to effectively direct interventions for mitigation of visitor impacts on water quality. 



Mikensi Romersa - Environmental and Natural Resource Journalism - "Grasping Wild"

Mikensi is working on a documentary in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, focusing specifically on relationship to place within wilderness. This is a visual story of the relationship between humans and their environment, the desire to explore untouched terrain, and the need to preserve it, and how this area of Montana has done its best to keep tourism at bay in a growing recreational tourism climate. Furthermore, it will look to address the current threats being made to land in these areas and pose the question of how we, as citizens, want land to be managed for generations to come.



Past Research with Students, Faculty, and Community Partners