Study: Where bison roam could spread microbes

A bison eats grass in a field.
Featured photo courtesy of Barbara Van Slyke, Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas State University.

As some of North America’s earliest nomads, bison likely played a major role in shaping the landscape of the continent, dispersing seeds as they roamed. But at the same time, new research shows, the herds may have influenced the microbes — such as fungi, bacteria and viruses — across the grasslands where they feasted.

A newly published study from University of Florida and Kansas State University researchers tested the saliva of bison at the Konza Prairie Biological Station (KPBS) near Manhattan, Kansas, and found at least 26 unique fungal species. It’s unclear what effect, if any, these species have on the plants and animals that share the area.

“Once we found that bison maintain plant-associated fungi in their saliva, it raised the likelihood that as they graze, they spread different microbes around,” said Karen Garrett, preeminent professor in the UF/IFAS department of plant pathology and faculty affiliate of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute. “Historically, bison used to travel huge distances, so their effect on the prairie was probably a lot greater than it is now with the small, contained herds.”

This article was originally written by Samantha Murray for UF/IFAS blogs. To read the full article, visit the blog.