Mycoplasma bovis is a bacterial pathogen endemic to cattle. In the early 2000s, M. bovis emerged as a cause of respiratory disease in American bison (Bison bison), causing significant morbidity and mortality. Bison herds that experience an outbreak of M. bovis are at higher risk for subsequent outbreaks, suggesting that chronic, subclinical infections can be established. Antemortem testing is therefore crucial to disease management; however, the precise sampling method to maximize detection of M. bovis in bison is unknown. We evaluated two sample types—superficial nasal swabs and deep nasopharyngeal swabs—collected from apparently healthy or symptomatic bison from January 2021 through December 2022. We used real-time PCR to detect M. bovis in 76/938 bison (8.1%) from 11 herds. For bison testing positive on at least one swab type, M. bovis was detected in 63/76 (82.8%) deep nasopharyngeal swabs and 29/73 (38.1%) superficial nasal swabs. Agreement between swabs for positive bison was 21% (n=16, kappa coefficient 0.319). We conclude that deep nasopharyngeal swabbing is more sensitive than superficial nasal swabbing for detection of M. bovis in bison and that low agreement between methods may be related to stage of infection. We further tested pooled samples by PCR and found that pooling of up to five samples can be effective to increase throughput and minimize costs. Management of wild bison relies on the ability to relocate animals to maintain gene flow and healthy populations. Sensitive and specific diagnostic tests are needed to inform decisions and minimize risk of transmission, especially from subclinical carriers. This study provides valuable insight that will inform best practices for M. bovis testing, thereby supporting the conservation of bison as healthy wildlife, which in turn promotes ecological restoration, safeguards cultural practices of Tribal Nations, and upholds the bison as a unique American icon.

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