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Open AccessArticle

Spacio-Temporal Distribution and Tourist Impact on Airborne Bacteria in a Cave (Škocjan Caves, Slovenia)

Karst Research Institute, Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Titov trg 2, 6230 Postojna, Slovenia
UNESCO Chair on Karst Education, University of Nova Gorica, Glavni trg 8, 5271 Vipava, Slovenia
National Building and Civil Engineering Institute, Dimičeva ulica 12, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Laboratory for Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Nova Gorica, Vipavska 13, 5000 Nova Gorica, Slovenia
Park Škocjanske jame, Slovenija, Škocjan 2, 6215 Divača, Slovenia
Institute of Microbiology and Immunology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ljubljana, Zaloška 4, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Diversity 2017, 9(3), 28;
Received: 29 June 2017 / Revised: 22 July 2017 / Accepted: 27 July 2017 / Published: 1 August 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Microbial Diversity in Caves)
(1) Background: Airborne microbes are an integral part of a cave ecosystem. Cave allochtonous airborne microbiota, which occurs mainly during aerosolization from an underground river, from animals, and from visitors, is particularly pronounced in show caves. The impacts of tourists and natural river aerosolization on the cave air were estimated in large cave spaces within the Škocjan Caves; (2) Methods: Simultaneously with the measurements of atmospheric parameters, cultivable airborne bacteria were impacted, counted and identified using MALDI-TOF MS (Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization Time-Of-Flight Mass Spectrometry); (3) Results: A mix of bacteria typically associated with humans and with natural habitats, including a large percentage of non-identified isolates, was found in the cave air. Few of the isolates were attributed to Risk Group 2. A strong positive correlation between tourist numbers and the rise in the concentration of airborne bacteria was indicated. Concentration of airborne bacteria rises to particularly high levels close to the underground river during periods of high discharge. A 10-times lower discharge reflected an approximately 20-times lower concentration of airborne bacteria; (4) Conclusions: Caves that are open and visited contain a diverse airborne microbiota originating from different sources. Enormous cave chambers that display relatively dynamic cave climate conditions do not normally support the enhancement of airborne bacterial concentrations. View Full-Text
Keywords: show cave; tourism impact; aerobiology; biomass; MALDI-TOF MS show cave; tourism impact; aerobiology; biomass; MALDI-TOF MS
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Mulec, J.; Oarga-Mulec, A.; Šturm, S.; Tomazin, R.; Matos, T. Spacio-Temporal Distribution and Tourist Impact on Airborne Bacteria in a Cave (Škocjan Caves, Slovenia). Diversity 2017, 9, 28.

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