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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 81:53-63 (2008)  -  DOI:

Contribution to the DAO Special 'Marine vertebrate zoonoses'

Characterization of Escherichia coli populations from gulls, landfill trash, and wastewater using ribotyping

M. Nelson1, S. H. Jones2, C. Edwards2, J. C. Ellis1,*

1Department of Environmental and Population Health, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University,
200 Westboro Road, North Grafton, Massachusetts 01536, USA
2Jackson Estuarine Laboratory, Department of Natural Resources, University of New Hampshire, 85 Adams Point Road, Durham, New Hampshire 03824, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Due to their opportunistic and gregarious nature, gulls may be important reservoirs and vectors for anthropogenically derived fecal pathogens in coastal areas. We used ribotyping, a genotypic bacterial source tracking method, to compare populations of Escherichia coli among herring gulls Larus argentatus, great black-backed gulls L. marinus, wastewater, and landfill trash in New Hampshire and Maine, USA. Concentrations of E. coli in gull feces varied widely among individuals, but were generally high (6.0 × 101 to 2.5 × 109 g–1 wet weight). Of 39 E. coli isolates from L. argentatus, 67% had banding patterns that were ≥90% similar to those from wastewater and trash, whereas only 39% of 36 L. marinus isolates exhibited ≥90% similarity to these sources. Strains of E. coli from gulls matched (≥90% similarity) more strains from wastewater (39% matching) than from trash (15% matching). E. coli isolates from L. marinus feces exhibited a greater diversity of banding patterns than did isolates from L. argentatus. There were more unique E. coli banding patterns in trash samples than in wastewater, and higher diversity indices in the former compared to the latter. These findings suggest that both species of gulls, especially L. argentatus, obtain fecal bacteria from wastewater and landfill trash, which they may transport to recreational beaches and waters. Our results also indicate that E. coli populations may vary widely between gull species, and between the anthropogenic habitats that they frequent, i.e. landfills and wastewater treatment facilities.

KEY WORDS: Microbial source tracking · Escherichia coli · Ribotyping · Larus argentatus · Larus marinus · Gull · Wastewater · Landfill

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Cite this article as: Nelson M, Jones SH, Edwards C, Ellis JC (2008) Characterization of Escherichia coli populations from gulls, landfill trash, and wastewater using ribotyping. Dis Aquat Org 81:53-63.

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