Symbiotic association between hoopoes and antibiotic-producing bacteria that live in their uropygial gland


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  • 1It has been recently showed that one bacterial strain isolated from the uropygial gland of a nestling hoopoe Upupa epops produced antimicrobial peptides active against a broad spectrum of pathogenic bacteria. These bacteria might thus mediate antimicrobial properties of the uropygial secretions as a consequence of the symbiotic association with hoopoes.
  • 2We study antimicrobial properties of white (from males and non-breeding females) and brown (from nestlings and breeding females) uropygial gland secretions of hoopoes Upupa epops, as well as the association with the presence of bacteria living inside their uropygial gland.
  • 3We found that brown, but not white secretions contained bacteria and showed antimicrobial activity against the feather degrading bacterium Bacillus licheniformis. The antagonistic activity of bacterial colonies was mediated by antimicrobial peptides because protease inhibited antimicrobial properties.
  • 4All except one identified bacterium in aerobic cultures were of the genus Enterococcus, and the microscopic study of uropygial secretions and glands confirmed a high density of bacteria within the gland.
  • 5Furthermore, we studied potential benefits of antimicrobial peptides produced by symbiotic bacteria of hoopoes by adding protease to incubating nests.
  • 6The experiment increased bacterial growth and hatching failures in hoopoes but not in spotless starlings Sturnus unicolor, a species that does not harbour bacteria in its uropygial gland.
  • 7Thus, microbiological, anatomical and ecological results suggest a tight symbiotic interaction between bacteria that produce antibiotic substances and the hoopoes.