Toxoplasma gondii is a ubiquitous parasitic protozoan that poses a health threat to wildlife and human health worldwide. Oocysts shed into the environment in felid host feces may persist for several years. Runoff from rainfall and snowmelt may carry the oocysts into waterways. Semiaquatic mammals such as the Northern American river otter (Lontra canadensis) are particularly at risk of exposure, as they may encounter infective stages in both terrestrial and aquatic environments. Despite this risk, only a small number of studies have examined the prevalence of T. gondii in US river otter populations. Tongue tissue was sampled from 124 otters from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan submitted by trappers to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in the 2018–19 harvest season. Following DNA extraction, a portion of the B1 T. gondii gene was amplified with PCR. A subset of positive samples was genotyped for comparison with known T. gondii sequences. Of the 124 tongue samples, 35 (28%) were positive for T. gondii. Prevalence did not differ significantly between sexes or age classes across the entire study area. Most (53.8%) of the genotyped samples were type 4 (type 12), a genotype commonly found in North American wildlife. Genotypes 127 and 197 were also found. Three clusters of T. gondii prevalence were identified through SaTScan analysis, although they were not significant. When modeling prevalence of T. gondii with covariates at individual otter locations, the top three models included the presence of Sarcocystis, area of exotic plants, area of agriculture, and sex of the otter. Our results suggest that T. gondii is widespread in otter populations in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
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Vol. 58 • No. 4