The Role of European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in the Dissemination of Multidrug-Resistant Escherichia coli among Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

Chandler, Anders and Blouin et al

Antimicrobial use in livestock production is a driver for the development and proliferation of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Wildlife interactions with livestock, acquiring associated AMR bacteria and genes, and wildlife’s subsequent dispersal across the landscape are hypothesized to play an important role in the ecology of AMR. Here, we examined priority AMR phenotypes and genotypes of Escherichia coli isolated from the gastrointestinal tracts of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) found on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). European starlings may be present in high numbers on CAFOs (>100,000 birds), interact with urban environments, and can migrate distances exceeding 1,500 km in North America. In this study, 1,477 European starlings from 31 feedlots in five U.S. states were sampled for E. coli resistant to third generation cephalosporins (3G-C) and fluoroquinolones. The prevalence of 3G-C and fluoroquinolone-resistant E. coli was 4% and 10%, respectively. Multidrug resistance in the E. coli isolates collected (n = 236) was common, with the majority of isolates displaying resistance to six or more classes of antibiotics. Genetic analyses of a subset of these isolates identified 94 genes putatively contributing to AMR, including seven class A and C β-lactamases as well as mutations in gyrA and parC recognized to confer resistance to quinolones. Phylogenetic and subtyping assessments showed that highly similar isolates (≥99.4% shared core genome, ≥99.6% shared coding sequence) with priority AMR were found in birds on feedlots separated by distances exceeding 150 km, suggesting that European starlings could be involved in the interstate dissemination of priority AMR bacteria.