Mycoplasma gallisepticum, a pathogen of worldwide economic importance in poultry, is recovered in chickens, especially from the respiratory tract. Some strains, however, are specialized to other tissues and because it jumps from poultry to wild birds, the new strains also cause severe conjunctivitis in new hosts. Nevertheless, most studies of M. gallisepticum in wild birds use choanal swabs or combine choanal and conjunctival swabs to quantify bacterial load. Because the clinical signs associated with M. gallisepticum infection differ markedly between poultry and House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus), we compared the bacterial load in choanal and conjunctival samples following experimental inoculation of House Finches with M. gallisepticum isolates originating from poultry or from House Finches. This allowed us to test two hypotheses: M. gallisepticum changed tissue tropism, or M. gallisepticum simply expanded its within-host niche. By comparing bacterial loads from choanal and conjunctival swabs in birds inoculated with one of a suite of M. gallisepticum isolates, we found support for hypothesis 2. The choanal loads in House Finches did not differ between isolates, while the conjunctival loads of birds inoculated with poultry isolates were lower than in birds inoculated with House Finch isolates. When measuring the bacterial load of M. gallisepticum in birds, it is important to sample and analyze separately choanal and conjunctival swabs, as quantifying bacterial loads in pooled samples may not provide reliable information on differences in virulence.

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