Impacts of a large invasive mammal on water quality in riparian ecosystems.
Wild pigs (Sus scrofa) are a highly invasive species in many regions of the world and can act as ecosystem engineers in areas where they are established. In riparian ecosystems, wild pigs may affect water quality parameters and introduce fecal bacteria, although previous studies have reported conflicting results. We propose four conditions that we believe are needed for an accurate assessment of wild pig impacts on water quality and address each one in our study. Water samples were collected between May 2018 and June 2019 in riparian watersheds on a privately owned property in Alabama that was densely populated by wild pigs (treatment) and in watersheds at a nearby national forest without an established population. Samples were analyzed for concentrations of water quality parameters, such as anions and cations, dissolved oxygen, total suspended solids, N, dissolved organic C, and Escherichia coli and other fecal coliforms. An additional 38 samples were analyzed using quantitative polymerase chain reaction for swine fecal bacteroidetes. At treatment watersheds, specific conductivity and concentrations of organic N and C, SO42-, and Ca2+ were between 2 and 11 times that of reference watersheds. Escherichia coli values at treatment watersheds were 40 times reference watershed values. DNA from swine fecal bacteroidetes was detected in 70% of treatment samples and 0% of reference samples. Wild pigs are a threat to water quality in riparian areas, and our results indicate that it may be important to control populations upstream of major drinking water sources and recreational areas.