The proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment has potential negative economic and health consequences. Thus, previous investigations have targeted wild animals to understand the occurrence of antibiotic resistance in diverse environmental sources. In this critical review and synthesis, we summarize important concepts learned through the sampling of wildlife for antibiotic resistant indicator bacteria. These concepts are helpful for understanding dissemination of resistance through environmental pathways and helping to guide future research efforts.
Our review is comprised of six sections. The first section briefly introduces antibiotic resistance as it pertains to bacteria harbored in environmental sources such as wild animals. Next, we differentiate wildlife from other animals in the context of how diverse taxa provide different information on antibiotic resistance in the environment. In the third section, we identify representative research and seminal works that illustrate important associations between the occurrence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in wildlife and anthropogenic inputs into the environment. For example, we highlight numerous investigations that support the premise that anthropogenic inputs into the environment drive the occurrence of antibiotic resistance in bacteria harbored by free-ranging wildlife. Additionally, we summarize previous research demonstrating foraging as a mechanism by which wildlife may be exposed to anthropogenic antibiotic resistance contamination in the environment. In the fourth section of our review, we summarize molecular evidence for the acquisition and dissemination of resistance among bacteria harbored by wildlife. In the fifth section, we identify what we believe to be important data gaps and potential future directions that other researchers may find useful towards the development of efficient, informative, and impactful investigations of antibiotic resistant bacteria in wildlife. Finally, we conclude our review by highlighting the need to move from surveys that simply identify antibiotic resistant bacteria in wildlife towards hypothesis-driven investigations that: (1) identify point sources of antibiotic resistance; (2) provide information on risk to human and animal health; (3) identify interventions that may interrupt environmentally mediated pathways of antibiotic resistance acquisition/transmission; and (4) evaluate whether management practices are leading to desirable outcomes.