, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 40-47
Date: 18 Aug 2005

Microbial Diversity of Wild Bird Feathers Revealed throughCulture-Based and Culture-Independent Techniques

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Despite recent interest in the interactions between birds and environmental microbes, the identities of the bacteria that inhabit the feathers of wild birds remain largely unknown. We used culture-based and culture-independent surveys of the feathers of eastern bluebirds (Sialis sialis) to examine bacterial flora. When used to analyze feathers taken from the same birds, the two survey techniques produced different results. Species of the poorly defined genus Pseudomonas were most common in the molecular survey, whereas species of the genus Bacillus were predominant in the culture-based survey. This difference may have been caused by biases in both the culture and polymerase chain reaction techniques that we used. The pooled results from both techniques indicate that the overall community is diverse and composed largely of members of the Firmicutes and β- and γ- subdivisions of the Proteobacteria. For the most part, bacterial sequences isolated from birds were closely related to sequences of soil-borne and water-borne bacteria in the GenBank database, suggesting that birds may have acquired many of these bacteria from the environment. However, the metabolic properties and optimal growth requirements of several isolates suggest that some of the bacteria may have a specialized association with feathers.