Chemical warfare? Effects of uropygial oil on feather-degrading bacteria

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2003
Authors:SHAWKEY, MATTHEWD, Pillai, SR, Hill, GE
Journal:Journal of Avian Biology
Date Published:2003
ISBN Number:1600-048X
Keywords:Burrica mexicana, Carpodacus, Carpodacus mexicanus, Fringillidae, Haemorhous, Haemorhous mexicanus
Abstract:Anti-microbial activity is a commonly suggested but rarely tested property of avian uropygial oil. Birds may defend themselves against feather-degrading and other potentially harmful bacteria using this oil. We preliminarily identified 13 bacterial isolates taken from the plumage of wild house finches Carpodacus mexicanus, measured bacterial production of the enzyme keratinase as an index of feather-degrading activity, and used the disc-diffusion method to test bacterial response to uropygial oil of house finches. For comparison, we performed the same tests on a type strain of the known feather-degrading bacterium Bacillus licheniformis. Uropygial oil inhibited the growth of three strongly feather-degrading isolates (including Bacillus licheniformis), as well as one weakly feather-degrading isolate and one non-feather-degrading isolate. Uropygial oil appeared to enhance the growth of one weakly feather-degrading isolate. Growth of the remaining isolates was unaffected by uropygial oil. These results suggest that birds may defend themselves against some feather-degrading bacteria using uropygial oil.
Short Title:Journal of Avian Biology
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