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Faecal genetic analysis to determine the presence and distribution of elusive carnivores: design and feasibility for the Iberian lynx


F. Palomares. Fax: +34 954 621 125; E-mail:


Noninvasive methods using genetic markers have been suggested as ways to overcome difficulties associated with documenting the presence of elusive species. We present and assess a novel, reliable and effective molecular genetic technique for the unequivocal genetic identification of faeces from the endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). From mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) cytochrome b and D-loop region sequences, we designed four species-specific primers (for products 130–161 bp long) that were considered to be likely to amplify degraded DNA. We compared two DNA extraction methods, various DNA amplification conditions and the robustness and specificity of the primer pairs with 87 lynx samples from 5 potentially different lynx populations and with 328 samples of other carnivore species. The utility of the identification technique was tested with faeces of different ages, with faeces from controlled field experiments, and with faeces collected from locales with possible lynx populations from throughout the state of Andalusia, Spain (8052 km2). Faecal mtDNA extraction was more efficient using PBS wash of the faeces instead of a faeces homogenate. Our assay increased from 92.6 to 99% efficiency with a second amplification and a reduction in template concentration to overcome polymerase chain reaction (PCR) inhibition. Our assay never produced false positives, and correctly identified all lynx faeces. Of 252 faeces samples of unknown species collected throughout Andalusia, 26.6% (from three different areas) were classified as Iberian lynx, 1.4% showed evidence of PCR inhibition and 1.2% were of uncertain origin. This method has proven to be a reliable technique that can be incorporated into large-scale surveys of Iberian lynx populations and exemplifies an approach that can easily be extended to other species.