Ag Alert Jan. 12, 2022

Research study tracks wild birds for threats to crops Some species of birds that forage on the groundnearcattlearemore likely tospread pathogenic bacteria to crops such as let- tuce, spinach and broccoli, according to a University of California, Davis, study.

feedlots were more likely to enter fields and defecate on crops species.” It added, “Collectively, our results suggest that sep- arating crop production from livestock farmingmaybe thebestway to lower food safety risks frombirds.” The study included researchers from UCDavis, UC Berkeley and UC Riverside, as well as Washington State University, University of Georgia, University of Texas at Arlington, Nature Conservancy and the National College of Veterinary Medicine, FoodScienceandEngineering inFrance. The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation. This month, the Woodland-based Center for ProduceSafetyawardedagrant of $370,000 for birdand farming studies in aproject titled, “Towards aholistic assess- ment of the food-safety risks imposed by wild birds.” Led by Karp of UC Davis, the study is evaluating farm impacts frombird popu- lations onnearby rangelands. “We will assess the food-safety risks associated with these species,” Karp and co-investigator JefferyMcGarvey wrote in an abstract describing the project. “Upon completion, we will disseminate our risk assessments andmanagement strategies through webinars and a photographic guide that will help growers identify birds on their farms and assess their risks.”

The study, published in the journal EcologicalApplications,notedthat invasive Europeanstarlings that flock in largenum- bersandforagenear livestockcantransport dangerous bacteria through their feces. However, thestudysaidmanyotherwild bird species foundnear farms—including useful insect-eating birds—are less likely to carry pathogens with food safety risks. Some California produce farmers have sought to remove bird habitats near crops amid fears over potential contamination. But study authors say data they collected may give farmers fewer reasons toworry. “Farmers are increasingly concerned that birds may be spreading foodborne diseases to their crops,” Daniel Karp, the senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the UCDavis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, said inastatement. “Yetnot all birdspecies are equally risky.” Karp and the research team conduct- ed pathogen tests and 1,565 bird surveys covering 139 bird species fromacross 350 fresh produce fields in the western U.S. Researchers collectedmore than 1,200 fe- cal samples. They measuredprevalenceof pathogens in feces, bird interactions with

The European starling, shown above, is an invasive bird species known to flock in large numbers to forage near livestock. Researchers say it can defecate on nearby crops, spreading pathogens.

crops, and the likelihood of different spe- cies to defecate on crops. Only one produce disease outbreak in the U.S. has been conclusively traced to birds. An outbreak of campylobacter, a bacteria that cancausediarrheabut is less dangerous thanE. coli andsalmonella,was found in peas inAlaska. In the Davis study, campylobacter was detected in8%of fecal samples, and E. coli and salmonella were found in less than 0.5%of samples.

“Our results indicated that canopy-for- aging insectivores were less likely to de- posit foodborne pathogens on crops, sug- gesting growers may be able to promote pest-eatingbirdsandbirdsof conservation concernwithout necessarily compromis- ing food safety,” the authors wrote. “As such, promoting insectivorous birds may represent a win-win-win for bird conser- vation, crop production and food safety.” But the study noted that researchers found that bird “species associated with

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6 Ag Alert January 12, 2022

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