An empirical exploration of data quality in DNA-based population inventories


D. Paetkau. Fax: 1250 3523567; E-mail:


I present data from 21 population inventory studies — 20 of them on bears — that relied on the noninvasive collection of hair, and review the methods that were used to prevent genetic errors in these studies. These methods were designed to simultaneously minimize errors (which can bias estimates of abundance) and per-sample analysis effort (which can reduce the precision of estimates by limiting sample size). A variety of approaches were used to probe the reliability of the empirical data, producing a mean, per-study estimate of no more than one undetected error in either direction (too few or too many individuals identified in the laboratory). For the type of samples considered here (plucked hair samples), the gain or loss of individuals in the laboratory can be reduced to a level that is inconsequential relative to the more universal sources of bias and imprecision that can affect mark–recapture studies, assuming that marker systems are selected according to stated guidelines, marginal samples are excluded at an early stage, similar pairs of genotypes are scrutinized, and laboratory work is performed with skill and care.