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Characterizing the Wild California Condor Microbiome

Characterizing the Wild California Condor Microbiome

Project Significance 

Improve understanding of wild California Condor microbiomes and their potential role in lead tolerance.

Project Summary

Microbiomes contribute to the health of their animal hosts and are in turn influenced by factors within and outside of their hosts. However, we often don’t know what constitutes a “healthy” microbiome for wild animals because they have received minimal research relative to

the microbiomes of humans and domestic animals.

California Condors, like other vultures, rely on their specialized gastrointestinal tracts to break down carrion containing pathogenic organisms or environmental toxicants. As a result, vultures may be particularly susceptible to gut microbiome perturbation. Chronic exposure to toxicants can alter gut microbial diversity to the detriment of the host, which may partly explain why vultures have been disproportionately impacted by anthropogenic toxicants relative to other wildlife.

Since conservation efforts began, the wild California Condor population has grown from 27 to approximately 300 individuals, but lead toxicosis remains a major threat to survival post-release. Pre-release conditioning for physical hazards (e.g., power lines) is already routine and vital for post-release success, but the current threat of lead is not easily avoidable. The growth of the wild population is highly dependent on the release of captive-bred individuals, and our

research will reveal how we might optimize gut health so these individuals can thrive in the wild. Pre-conditioning of the condor microbiome prior to release to be more similar to wild condor

microbiomes may improve their ability to withstand the impacts of lead and other toxicants. Intervention strategies such as diet alterations, probiotics, and microbial transplants are currently

used in poultry production and can be adapted to alter microbiome composition in wildlife. However, we currently don’t know what constitutes the core microbiome (i.e., microbes present

in 90% of individuals) of wild California Condors.


● Identify bacterial and fungal microbes that reside in the wild California Condor

gastrointestinal tract using fecal samples as a proxy.

● Identify external factors that influence the condor microbiome.

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