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Antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli in migratory birds inhabiting remote Alaska

March 30, 2018

We explored the abundance of antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli among migratory birds at remote sites in Alaska and used a comparative approach to speculate on plausible explanations for differences in detection among species. At a remote island site, we detected antibiotic-resistant E. coli phenotypes in samples collected from glaucous-winged gulls (Larus glaucescens), a species often associated with foraging at landfills, but not in samples collected from black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), a more pelagic gull that typically inhabits remote areas year-round. We did not find evidence for antibiotic-resistant E. coli among 347 samples collected primarily from waterfowl at a second remote site in western Alaska. Our results provide evidence that glaucous-winged gulls may be more likely to be infected with antibiotic-resistant E. coli at remote breeding sites as compared to sympatric black-legged kittiwakes. This could be a function of the tendency of glaucous-winged gulls to forage at landfills where antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections may be acquired and subsequently dispersed. The low overall detection of antibiotic-resistant E. coli in migratory birds sampled at remote sites in Alaska is consistent with the premise that anthropogenic inputs into the local environment or the relative lack thereof influences the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria among birds inhabiting the area.