Increased overlap between humans and wildlife populations has increased the risk for novel disease emergence. Detecting contacts with a high risk for transmission of pathogens requires the identification of dependable measures of microbial exchange. We evaluated antibiotic resistance as a molecular marker for the intensity of human–wildlife microbial connectivity in the Galápagos Islands. We isolated Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica from the feces of land iguanas (Conolophus sp.), marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), giant tortoises (Geochelone nigra), and seawater, and tested these bacteria with the use of the disk diffusion method for resistance to 10 antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria were found in reptile feces from two tourism sites (Isla Plaza Sur and La Galapaguera on Isla San Cristóbal) and from seawater close to a public use beach near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on Isla San Cristóbal. No resistance was detected at two protected beaches on more isolated islands (El Miedo on Isla Santa Fe and Cape Douglas on Isla Fernandina) and at a coastal tourism site (La Lobería on Isla San Cristóbal). Eighteen E. coli isolates from three locations, all sites relatively proximate to a port town, were resistant to ampicillin, doxycycline, tetracycline, and trimethoprin/sulfamethoxazole. In contrast, only five S. enterica isolates showed a mild decrease in susceptibility to doxycycline and tetracycline from these same sites (i.e., an intermediate resistance phenotype), but no clinical resistance was detected in this bacterial species. These findings suggest that reptiles living in closer proximity to humans potentially have higher exposure to bacteria of human origin; however, it is not clear from this study to what extent this potential exposure translates to ongoing exchange of bacterial strains or genetic traits. Resistance patterns and bacterial exchange in this system warrant further investigation to understand better how human associations influence disease risk in endemic Galápagos wildlife.
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