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White-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) in protected Danube wetlands as carriers of Escherichia coli with resistance and virulence genes

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Environmental pollution with antibiotics and antibiotic resistant bacteria represents a significant ecological problem around the world. In this study, we wanted to identify multiple clinically important genotypes of Escherichia coli (E. coli) in one of the largest populations of white-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla–H. albicilla) nesting in the protected area of Danube floodplains. This is the first such study of the species, covering the nesting community (20 of 21 active nests) of H. albicilla in one nature reserve. High resistance to fluoroquinolone was detected in one multidrug-resistant E. coli isolate, and this type of resistance was induced by the mutations on topoisomerase genes gyrA, parC, and parE. This isolate also carried resistance genes sul1 and tetB and the virulence gene iutA. Molecular typing by randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) in combination with phylogenetic typing revealed high diversity among 11 E. coli isolates. With five different replicon types found (IncFIB, IncFIA, Inc FIC, IncY, and IncI1), the majority of isolates had multi-replicon status with a pronounced capacity of horizontal transfer of resistance and virulence genes. The coexistence of at least two virulence genes linked to development of a pathogenic phenotype and multi-replicon status in three E. coli isolates implies the potential for causing extra-intestinal infections, as well as horizontal transfer of pathogenic genetic determinants in the bacterial community. Resistance to synthetic antibiotics such as fluoroquinolones in an E. coli isolate from white-tailed eagle clearly points to the indirect anthropogenic sources of antibiotic pollution and antibiotic resistant bacteria present in wildlife food chains.

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This research was financially supported by a grant from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia by the Contract of implementation and financing of scientific research work of NIV-NS, Contract No. 451–03-9/2021–14/200031.

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Conceptualization: Gordana Kozoderović, Maja Velhner; methodology: Dalibor Todorović, Maja Velhner; investigation: Gordana Kozoderović, Dalibor Todorović, Brankica Kartalović, Milan Đilas; data curation: Dalibor Todorović; writing—original draft preparation: Gordana Kozoderović; writing—review and editing: Dalibor Todorović, Maja Velhner, Milan Đilas, and Brankica Kartalović; funding acquisition: Maja Velhner; resources: Gordana Kozoderović, Dalibor Todorović, Maja Velhner.

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The collection of samples has been conducted as per the guidelines of the national and provincial institutions, according to national legislations for protected species (Ministry of Environmental Protection of the Republic of Serbia: Permission for research of faeces samples of highly protected species of white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) for scientific investigation purposes, number 353–01-1030/2018–04; Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province: Expert opinion of the possibility of collection of faeces of white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) in SNR “Gornje Podunavlje” for the purpose of bacteriological and parasitological research, number 03–1038/2). According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened species, the conservation status of Haliaeetus albicilla is of “least concern” (LC).

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Kozoderović, G., Todorović, D., Đilas, M. et al. White-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) in protected Danube wetlands as carriers of Escherichia coli with resistance and virulence genes. Eur J Wildl Res 67, 103 (2021).

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