Enhanced understanding of predator–prey relationships using molecular methods to identify predator species, individual and sex

Authors

  • Matthew A. Mumma,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Fish and Wildlife Sciences, College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Colleen E. Soulliere,

    1. Sustainable Development and Strategic Science, Department of Environment and Conservation, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, Newfoundland
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Shane P. Mahoney,

    1. Sustainable Development and Strategic Science, Department of Environment and Conservation, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, Newfoundland
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Lisette P. Waits

    1. Department of Fish and Wildlife Sciences, College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA
    Search for more papers by this author

Abstract

Predator species identification is an important step in understanding predator-prey interactions, but predator identifications using kill site observations are often unreliable. We used molecular tools to analyse predator saliva, scat and hair from caribou calf kills in Newfoundland, Canada to identify the predator species, individual and sex. We sampled DNA from 32 carcasses using cotton swabs to collect predator saliva. We used fragment length analysis and sequencing of mitochondrial DNA to distinguish between coyote, black bear, Canada lynx and red fox and used nuclear DNA microsatellite analysis to identify individuals. We compared predator species detected using molecular tools to those assigned via field observations at each kill. We identified a predator species at 94% of carcasses using molecular methods, while observational methods assigned a predator species to 62.5% of kills. Molecular methods attributed 66.7% of kills to coyote and 33.3% to black bear, while observations assigned 40%, 45%, 10% and 5% to coyote, bear, lynx and fox, respectively. Individual identification was successful at 70% of kills where a predator species was identified. Only one individual was identified at each kill, but some individuals were found at multiple kills. Predator sex was predominantly male. We demonstrate the first large-scale evaluation of predator species, individual and sex identification using molecular techniques to extract DNA from swabs of wild prey carcasses. Our results indicate that kill site swabs (i) can be highly successful in identifying the predator species and individual responsible; and (ii) serve to inform and complement traditional methods.

Ancillary