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A method for estimating population sex ratio for sage-grouse using noninvasive genetic samples


Correspondence: Jeremy A. Baumgardt, Fax: 208-885-9080; E-mail:


Population sex ratio is an important metric for wildlife management and conservation, but estimates can be difficult to obtain, particularly for sexually monomorphic species or for species that differ in detection probability between the sexes. Noninvasive genetic sampling (NGS) using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has become a common method for identifying sex from sources such as hair, feathers or faeces, and is a potential source for estimating sex ratio. If, however, PCR success is sex-biased, naively using NGS could lead to a biased sex ratio estimator. We measured PCR success rates and error rates for amplifying the W and Z chromosomes from greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) faecal samples, examined how success and error rates for sex identification changed in response to faecal sample exposure time, and used simulation models to evaluate precision and bias of three sex assignment criteria for estimating population sex ratio with variable sample sizes and levels of PCR replication. We found PCR success rates were higher for females than males and that choice of sex assignment criteria influenced the bias and precision of corresponding sex ratio estimates. Our simulations demonstrate the importance of considering the interplay between the sex bias of PCR success, number of genotyping replicates, sample size, true population sex ratio and accuracy of assignment rules for designing future studies. Our results suggest that using faecal DNA for estimating the sex ratio of sage-grouse populations has great potential and, with minor adaptations and similar marker evaluations, should be applicable to numerous species.