U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Date of this Version



Applied and Environmental Microbiology 79(12): 3762–3769 (June 2013); doi:10.1128/AEM.03990-12


The risk to human health of the annual sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) migration through Nebraska, which is thought to be a major source of fecal pollution of the central Platte River, is unknown. To better understand potential risks, the presence of Campylobacter species and three fecal indicator bacterial groups (Enterococcus spp., Escherichia coli, and Bacteroidetes) was assayed by PCR from crane excreta and water samples collected during their stopover at the Platte River, Nebraska, in 2010. Genus-specific PCR assays and sequence analyses identified Campylobacter jejuni as the predominant Campylobacter species in sandhill crane excreta. Campylobacter spp. were detected in 48% of crane excreta, 24% of water samples, and 11% of sediment samples. The estimated densities of Enterococcus spp. were highest in excreta samples (mean, 4.6 x108 cell equivalents [CE]/g), while water samples contained higher levels of Bacteroidetes (mean, 5.1 x 105 CE/100 ml). Enterococcus spp., E. coli, and Campylobacter spp. were significantly increased in river water and sediments during the crane migration period, with Enterococcus sp. densities (~3.3 x 105 CE/g) 2 to 4 orders of magnitude higher than those of Bacteroidetes (4.9 x 103 CE/g), E. coli (2.2 x 103 CE/ g), and Campylobacter spp. (37 CE/g). Sequencing data for the 16S rRNA gene and Campylobacter species-specific PCR assays indicated that C. jejuni was the major Campylobacter species present in water, sediments, and crane excreta. Overall, migration appeared to result in a significant, but temporary, change in water quality in spring, when there may be a C. jejuni health hazard associated with water and crops visited by the migrating birds.