Infectious diseases can be a major threat to wildlife populations, especially in human-modified habitats, but infection rates in populations of wild animals are often poorly studied. Trichomonas, Salmonella, and Listeria are all pathogens known to infect birds, but their infection rates in wild bird populations are not well documented. This study documents infection rates of the three pathogens in wild bird populations inhabiting a suburban to rural gradient in Southeast Texas. Various species of wild birds were sampled at five sites in Southeastern Texas representing rural (<1 house per ha), exurban (approximately 1 house per ha), and suburban (approximately 10 houses per ha) habitat types. Birds were captured in mist nets and samples were taken from the oral cavity, crop, and vent to detect the presence of pathogens. Samples were screened for Trichomonas by examining wet mounts under a light microscope, whereas samples were screened for Salmonella and Listeria by examining colonies grown on agar plates. Pathogens detected during the initial screening were further confirmed by PCR and DNA sequencing. Infection rates for Trichomonas, Salmonella, and Listeria were 9%, 17%, and 5%, respectively. The distributions of infection rates across habitats (i.e., rural, exurban, rural) did not differ significantly from the expected null distributions for any of the three pathogens; however, the data suggested some interesting patterns that should be confirmed with a larger dataset. Infection rates for Trichomonas and Salmonella were highest at the suburban sites, whereas the infection rate for Listeria was highest at the rural site. Feeder birds were more likely to be infected by all three pathogens than non-feeder birds. Small sample sizes prevent definitive conclusions regarding variation in infection rates along the suburban to rural gradient, but the results suggest that pathogens followed the predicted patterns. For many of the bird species sampled, this study presents the first report of infection rates by these three pathogens in wild populations.
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Vol. 61 • No. 3