Merging Metagenomics and Spatial Epidemiology To Understand the Distribution of Antimicrobial Resistance Genes from Enterobacteriaceae in Wild Owls

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Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a well-documented phenomenon in bacteria from many natural ecosystems, including wild animals. However, the specific determinants and spatial distribution of resistant bacteria and antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) in the environment remain incompletely understood. In particular, information regarding the importance of anthropogenic sources of AMR relative to that of other biological and ecological influences is lacking. We conducted a cross-sectional study of AMR in great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) and barred owls (Strix varia) admitted to a rehabilitation center in the midwestern United States. A combination of selective culture enrichment and shotgun metagenomic sequencing was used to identify ARGs from Enterobacteriaceae. Overall, the prevalence of AMR was comparable to that in past studies of resistant Enterobacteriaceae in raptors, with acquired ARGs being identified in 23% of samples. Multimodel regression analyses identified seasonality and owl age to be important predictors of the likelihood of the presence of ARGs, with birds sampled during warmer months being more likely to harbor ARGs than those sampled during cooler months and with birds in their hatch year being more likely to harbor β-lactam ARGs than adults. Beyond host-specific determinants, ARG-positive owls were also more likely to be recovered from areas of high agricultural land cover. Spatial clustering analyses identified a significant high-risk cluster of tetracycline resistance gene-positive owls in the southern sampling range, but this could not be explained by any predictor variables. Taken together, these results highlight the complex distribution of AMR in natural environments and suggest that both biological and anthropogenic factors play important roles in determining the emergence and persistence of AMR in wildlife.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00571-20
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine Population Systems grant program.


  • Enterobacteriaceae
  • anthropogenic landscapes
  • antimicrobial resistance
  • metagenomics
  • raptors
  • spatial epidemiology
  • wildlife

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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