E. coli and Listeria growth in soil varies by cover crops and manure use

Cover crops provide several ecosystem services, but their impact on enteric bacterial survival remains unexplored.

crimson.clover.cover.cropThe influence of cover cropping on foodborne pathogen indicator bacteria was assessed in five cover crop/green manure systems: cereal rye, hairy vetch, crimson clover, hairy vetch-rye and crimson clover-rye mixtures, and bare ground. Cover crop plots were inoculated with Escherichia coli and Listeria innocua in the fall of 2013 and 2014 and tilled into the soil in the spring to form green manure. Soil samples were collected and the bacteria enumerated.

Time was a factor for all bacterial populations studied in all fields (P < 0.001). E. coli levels declined when soil temperatures dipped to <5°C and were detected only sporadically the following spring. L. innocua diminished somewhat but persisted, independently of season.

In an organic field, the cover crop was a factor for E. coli in year 1 (P = 0.004) and for L. innocua in year 2 (P = 0.011). In year 1, E. coli levels were highest in the rye and hairy vetch-rye plots. In year 2, L. innocua levels were higher in hairy vetch-rye (P = 0.01) and hairy vetch (P = 0.03) plots than in the rye plot. Bacterial populations grew (P < 0.05) or remained the same 4 weeks after green manure incorporation, although initial reductions in L. innocua numbers were observed after tilling (P < 0.05). Green manure type was a factor only for L. innocua abundance in a transitional field (P < 0.05).

Overall, the impacts of cover crops/green manures on bacterial population dynamics in soil varied, being influenced by bacterial species, time from inoculation, soil temperature, rainfall, and tillage; this reveals the need for long-term studies.

Effects of cover crop species and season on population dynamics of Escherichia coli and Listeria innocua in soil

Applied and Environmental Microbiology; March 2016; vol. 82; no. 6; 1767-1777

Neiunna L. Reed-Jones, Sasha Cahn Marine, Kathryne L. Everts and Shirley A. Micalle