Context . Free-ranging mammals contribute to faecal pollution in United States water bodies. However, research into wildlife impact on water quality is dependent upon unreliable data (e.g. data uncertainty, unknown importance of parameters).
Aims . Our goal was to determine the potential impacts of common free-ranging mammal species and their management on Escherichia coli in the study floodplain. Our objectives for this research were to construct a model from study area- and literature-derived data, determine important species for E. coli deposition, and conduct sensitivity analyses on model parameters to focus future research efforts.
Methods . We constructed a model that incorporated parameters for four wildlife species known to contribute E. coli in central Texas: raccoons (Procyon lotor), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana), and wild pigs (Sus scrofa). These parameters were (1) population density estimates, (2) defaecation rates, (3) defaecation areas, (4) E. coli concentration in faecal material estimates, and (5) E. coli survival. We conducted sensitivity analyses on the model parameters to determine relative importance of each parameter and areas for additional study.
Key results . We found that adjustment of raccoon and Virginia opossum population densities had higher impacts on E. coli in the floodplain than similar changes in other species across all spatial and seasonal variations. We also found that the changes in E. coli survival, E. coli concentration in raccoon faecal material, and defaecation rates had the highest impacts on E. coli in the floodplain.
Conclusions . Our sensitivity analyses indicated that the largest impacts to projected E. coli loads were from changes in defaecation rates followed by E. coli concentration in faecal material and E. coli survival. Watershed planners, ranchers, and regulators must be cautioned that faecal deposition patterns are location specific and could significantly impact which species are considered the most important contributors.
Implications . Although all parameters require more research, we recommend that researchers determine defaecation rates for contributing species due to their relatively large impacts on E. coli in comparison to the other parameters. We also suggest additional research in free-ranging wildlife faecal morphology (form and structure) and area of deposition. Finally, species-specific E. coli survival studies for free-ranging wildlife should be conducted.