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Keywords:

  • Brachylagus idahoensis ;
  • DNA degradation;
  • genotyping error;
  • noninvasive genetic sampling;
  • pygmy rabbit

Abstract

Noninvasive genetic sampling of faecal pellets can be a valuable method for monitoring rare and cryptic wildlife populations, like the pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis). To investigate this method's efficiency for pygmy rabbit monitoring, we evaluated the effect of sample age on DNA degradation in faecal pellets under summer field conditions. We placed 275 samples from known individuals in natural field conditions for 1–60 days and assessed DNA quality by amplifying a 294-base-pair (bp) mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) locus and five nuclear DNA (nDNA) microsatellite loci (111–221 bp). DNA degradation was influenced by sample age, DNA type, locus length and rabbit sex. Both mtDNA and nDNA exhibited high PCR success rates (94.4%) in samples <1 day old. Success rates for microsatellite loci declined rapidly from 80.0% to 42.7% between days 5 and 7, likely due to increased environmental temperature. Success rates for mtDNA amplification remained higher than nDNA over time, with moderate success (66.7%) at 21 days. Allelic dropout rates were relatively high (17.6% at <1 day) and increased to 100% at 60 days. False allele rates ranged from 0 to 30.0% and increased gradually over time. We recommend collecting samples as fresh as possible for individual identification during summer field conditions. Our study suggests that this method can be useful for future monitoring efforts, including occupancy surveys, individual identification, population estimation, parentage analysis and monitoring of genetic diversity both of a re-introduced population in central Washington and across their range.