Occurrence and relevance of Mycoplasma spp. in free-ranging pheasants from northwestern Germany
Since 2008/2009, the population of free-ranging ring-necked pheasants was recorded to decrease all over Germany. Various Mycoplasma (M.) spp. are causing severe respiratory signs in captive game bird species. Furthermore, M. gallisepticum is responsible for massive die-offs in consequence to severe conjunctivitis in house finches in the USA. Therefore, the prevalence of mycoplasmas in free-ranging pheasants was investigated and a potential impact on the population decline of pheasants discussed. Within this study, 150 free-ranging pheasants were sampled via tracheal swabs and tissue samples of the trachea and the periorbital skin, as the latter displayed inflammatory alterations in previous studies. In total, 177 samples were investigated for the presence of mycoplasmas using cultural and molecular biological methods. In 76 birds, necropsy was performed additionally. In total, 73.7% (51/76) of the examined pheasants had periorbital skin alterations. Furthermore, 64.4% (114/177) of the samples tested positive for mycoplasmas via PCR. Overall, 102/177 samples (57.6%, 78/105 tracheal swabs, 19/51 skin tissue, 5/21 trachea tissue) tested positive for mycoplasmas via culture. Mycoplasma gallinaceum (n = 50), M. pullorum (n = 45), M. glycophilum (n = 43), M. iners (n = 11), and M. gallinarum (n = 5) were frequently isolated. In 45 cases (45.9%), multiple Mycoplasma spp. were isolated from one sample. All examined samples tested negative for M. gallisepticum. Of 51 skin samples investigated for mycoplasmas, 24 (47.1%) showed inflammatory skin alterations in histology, and 58.3% (14/24) of these samples tested positive for Mycoplasma spp. additionally. Overall, there was a significant correlation between inflammatory altered skin samples and the detection of mycoplasmas in periorbital skin samples. Based on the present results, the isolated Mycoplasma spp. may play a role as facultative agents for the observed inflammatory skin alterations. However, additional investigation is needed to confirm this presumption.