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Keywords:

  • carnivore feeding ecology;
  • diet;
  • faecal DNA;
  • Felidae;
  • species diagnosis

Abstract

We studied the diets of four sympatric carnivores in the flooding savannas of western Venezuela by analysing predator DNA and prey remains in faeces. DNA was isolated and a portion of the cytochrome b gene of the mitochondrial genome amplified and sequenced from 20 of 34 scats. Species were diagnosed by comparing the resulting sequences to reference sequences generated from the blood of puma (Puma concolor), jaguar (Panthera onca), ocelot (Leopardus pardalus) and crab-eating fox (Cerdocyon thous). Scat size has previously been used to identify predators, but DNA data show that puma and jaguar scats overlap in size, as do those of puma, ocelot and fox. Prey-content analysis suggests minimal prey partitioning between pumas and jaguars. In field testing this technique for large carnivores, two potential limitations emerged: locating intact faecal samples and recovering DNA sequences from samples obtained in the wet season. Nonetheless, this study illustrates the tremendous potential of DNA faecal studies. The presence of domestic dog (Canis familiaris) in one puma scat and of wild pig (Sus scrofa), set as bait, in one jaguar sample exemplifies the forensic possibilities of this noninvasive analysis. In addition to defining the dietary habits of similar size sympatric mammals, DNA identifications from faeces allow wildlife managers to detect the presence of endangered taxa and manage prey for their conservation.