Considerations for studying transmission of antimicrobial resistant enteric bacteria between wild birds and the environment on intensive dairy and beef cattle operations

Kristin Tormoehlen, Yvette J. Johnson-Walker, Emily W. Lankau, Maung San Myint, John A. Herrmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Wild birds using livestock facilities for food and shelter may contribute to dissemination of enteric pathogens or antimicrobial resistant bacteria. However, drivers of microbial exchange among wildlife and livestock are not well characterized. Predisposition for acquiring and retaining environmental bacteria may vary among species because of physiologic or behavioral differences, complicating selection of a bacterial model that can accurately characterize microbial connections among hosts of interest. This study compares the prevalence and antibiotic resistance phenotypes of two potential model bacterial organisms isolated from wild birds and their environments. Methods: We compared prevalence and resistance profiles of Escherichia coli and Enterococcus species isolated from environmental swabs and bird feces on a residential control site, a confinement dairy, a pasture-based beef farm, and a confinement beef farm. Results: Bird feces at all sites had low-to-moderate prevalence of Escherichia coli (range: 17-47%), despite potential for exposure on farms (range: 63-97%). Few Escherichia coli were isolated from the control environment. Enterococcus faecalis was dominant in birds at both beef farms (62% and 81% of Enterococcus isolates) and low-to-moderately prevalent at the dairy and control sites (29% and 23% of isolates, respectively). Antimicrobial resistance prevalence was higher in farm samples compared to those from the residential control, but distribution of resistant isolates varied between the bacterial genera. Birds on all farms carried resistant Enterococcus at similar rates to that of the environment, but resistance was less common in bird-associated Escherichia coli despite presence of resistant isolates in the farm environment. Discussion: Bacterial species studied may affect how readily bacterial exchange among populations is detected. Selection of microbial models must carefully consider both the questions being posed and how findings might influence resulting management decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere6460
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019


  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Enteric bacteria
  • Enterococcus
  • Escherichia coli
  • Microbial ecology
  • Transmission
  • Wild birds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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