Plants against pathogens: Effect of significant antimicrobial-producing plants on faecal microbe inactivation throughout the soil profile of stormwater biofilters

P. Galbraith, R. Henry, D. T. McCarthy

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Stormwater biofilters have demonstrated promising yet variable removal of faecal microorganisms. Significant antimicrobial-producing plants have been proposed as an inexpensive, safe and easily adaptable component of biofilter design to enhance faecal pathogen treatment. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether significant antimicrobial-producing plants improved faecal bacterial inactivation throughout the biofilter soil profile, focusing on four key treatment zones. These were specifically the top sediment/surface layer; the rhizosphere (soil directly attached to and influenced by plant roots); bulk soil (soil not directly associated with roots); and the submerged/saturated zone. Biofilters were configured with either: (1) no plant; (2) Carex appressa, the most highly recommended plant species in Australian biofilter adoption guidelines; or (3) one of two significant antimicrobial-producing Australian plant species, Melaleuca linariifolia or Melaleuca fulgens (n = 3 each). Following 16 months’ maturation, systems were dosed with semi-synthetic stormwater containing faecal bacteria Escherichia coli and Enterococcus faecalis to monitor their ensuing die-off within all major biofilter treatment zones. Bacterial inactivation was generally more rapid in M. fulgens and M. linariifolia than C. appressa biofilters, with E. faecalis demonstrating an overall enhanced resistance to inactivation. Top sediment tended to exhibit the highest inactivation rates, significantly correlated with sunlight exposure. Conversely, the rhizosphere supported comparatively prolonged faecal bacterial survival. The authors recommend further investigation of melaleucas and similar highly antimicrobial-producing plants for enhanced faecal pathogen treatment within biofilters and related treatment contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118707
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022


  • Antimicrobial
  • Biofiltration
  • Fecal microorganisms
  • Pathogens
  • Urban stormwater
  • Vegetation

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