This study investigated the occurrence and diversity of Bacteroidales fecal bacteria in gulls residing in the Great Lakes region. Members of this bacterial order have been widely employed as human and bovine host-specific markers of fecal pollution; however, few studies have focused on gulls, which can be a major source of fecal indicator bacteria and pathogens at beaches. We found a low but consistent occurrence of Bacteroidales in gulls at five beaches in three different counties spanning the Wisconsin shoreline of Lake Michigan. The percentages of gulls positive for Bacteroidales were 4 to 8% at beaches in the southern part of the state and 8 to 50% at beaches in the north. Sequencing of 931 clones from seven gull Bacteroidales 16S rRNA gene libraries revealed a large amount of diversity in both individual and pooled gull fecal samples. Two libraries constructed from pooled gull fecal samples (n = 5 and n = 6) did not have a greater richness of sequences than individual samples, suggesting that even within a single gull diversity is high and an extensive sequencing effort is needed to characterize the populations. Estimates of the numbers of operational taxonomic units (OTUs) for the libraries obtained using different similarity levels revealed a large amount of microdiveristy with a limited number of OTUs at the 95% similarity level. Gull sequences were clustered by the beach from which they were collected, suggesting that there were geographic effects on the distribution of Bacteriodales. More than 53% of the 16S rRNA gene sequences from gulls at the southern beaches were associated with the family Porphyromonadaceae, primarily the genus Parabacteroides, whereas sequences from gulls at the northern beaches were comprised of Bacteroidaceae and Prevotellaceae sequences. Comparison of gull sequences with sequences from goose, canine, raccoon, and sewage sources revealed distinct clusters of closely related gull sequences; however, these sequences were widely dispersed across a dendrogram that included all other sources, including previously characterized gull Bacteroidales from other studies, suggesting that geographic influence or simply sample representation plays a greater role in the observed population structure than strictly the host gut environment
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