Analyzing the Gut Microbiome of Urban Canada Geese

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The Challenge: The Canada Goose Branta canadensis was historically a highly migratory species.  However, this species has recently established resident populations in urban, suburban, and agricultural areas in many parts of the U.S., including the Chesapeake Bay region.  The enormous success of these populations has led to consideration of this species as a nuisance, largely due to its excessive droppings and aggressiveness towards humans.  Large amounts of droppings in urban and suburban environments, especially on parks, lawns, and golf courses, are potential sources of bacteria, archaea, and viruses and thus may represent a significant health hazard to human populations in these areas.

The Science: Understanding the bacteria and other microbes found in Canada Geese is a major step towards assessment of the potential human health hazard represented by this species.  In a collaboration with researchers at the Smithsonian Institution, we are using next-generation DNA sequencing to identify the microbiome of various portions of the gut of a sample of resident Canada Geese collected near Annapolis, Maryland.  Samples from the esophagus, small and large intestines, and cecum are being analyzed.  DNA sequences obtained from the gut are then being matched to sequences of known microorganisms, including potentially harmful organisms.

The Future: Over the past few decades, the Canada Goose has emerged as a pest species in over 100 urban areas of the U.S.  This study will help determine whether the species is mainly a nuisance or whether it represents more of a human health risk, thereby providing wildlife managers, city planners, and others with a more complete picture of the hazards posed by Canada Geese.  The study will also provide baseline data on bacteria and other microbes that can be compared to similar data from other species, from migratory populations of Canada Geese, or from resident populations in other parts of their range.