Microbial Ecology of the Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)

Publication Date

March 2019

Document Type


Publication Title

Microbial Ecology



First Page


Last Page



Avian species host diverse communities of microorganisms which have important roles in the life of birds, including increased metabolism, protection from disease, and immune system development. Along with high human populations and a diversity of human uses of coastal zones, anthropogenic food sources are becoming increasingly available to some species, including gulls. Anthropogenic associations increase the likelihood of encountering foreign or pathogenic bacteria. Diseases in birds caused by bacteria are a substantial source of avian mortality; therefore, it is essential to characterize the microbiome of seabirds. Here, we determined both core and environmentally derived microbial communities of breeding western gulls (Larus occidentalis) from six colonies in California and Oregon. Using DNA extracted from bacterial swabs of the bill, cloaca, and feet of gulls, 16S rRNA gene sequencing was performed targeting the V4 region. We identified a total of 8542 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) from 75 gulls. Sixty-eight OTUs were identified in gulls from all six colonies with the greatest representation from phyla’s of Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Actinobacteria. Overall, microbial richness based on Chao’s Abundance-based Coverage Estimator (ACE) index was similar for all colonies (mean = 2347 OTUs) with the smallest coastal colonies having the highest richness (mean = 2626 OTUs) and the largest colonies, located farther off-shore, having the lowest (mean = 2068 OTUs). This survey represents the most in-depth assessment to date of microbes associated with western gulls, and the first study to identify both species-specific and environmentally derived bacteria across multiple populations.


Avian bacteria, Ecology, Western gull, Larus occidentalis, 16S rRNA, Firmicutes


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