Birds are highly susceptible to aspergillosis, which can manifest as a primary infection in both domestic and wild birds. Aspergillosis in wild birds causes mortalities ranging in scale from single animals to large-scale epizootic events. However, pathogenicity factors associated with aspergillosis in wild birds have not been examined. Specifically, it is unknown whether wild bird-infecting strains are host-adapted (i.e. phylogenetically related). Similarly, it is unknown whether epizootics are driven by contact with clonal strains that possess unique pathogenic or virulence properties, or by distinct and equally pathogenic strains. Here, we use a diverse collection of Aspergillus fumigatus isolates taken from aspergillosis-associated avian carcasses, representing 24 bird species from a wide geographic range, and representing individual bird mortalities as well as epizootic events. These isolates were sequenced and analyzed along with 130 phylogenetically diverse human clinical isolates to investigate the genetic diversity and phylogenetic placement of avian-associated A. fumigatus, the geographic and host distribution of avian isolates, evidence for clonal outbreaks among wild birds, and the frequency of azole resistance in avian isolates. We found that avian isolates were phylogenetically diverse, with no clear distinction from human clinical isolates, and no sign of host or geographic specificity. Avian isolates from the same epizootic events were diverse and phylogenetically distant, suggesting that avian aspergillosis is not contagious among wild birds and that outbreaks are likely driven by environmental spore loads or host comorbidities. Finally, all avian isolates were susceptible to Voriconazole and none contained the canonical azole resistance gene variants.
Keywords: Aspergillus fumigatus; avian; azole resistance; bird; population genomics.
Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Genetics Society of America 2022. This work is written by US Government employees and is in the public domain in the US.