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Assessing reliability of microsatellite genotypes from kit fox faecal samples using genetic and GIS analyses

Authors

  • D. A. SMITH,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Ecosystem Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195,
      Deborah A. Smith, Fax: 206-543-3254, E-mail: debsmith@u.washington.edu.
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  • K. RALLS,

    1. Conservation and Research Center, Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C. 20008,
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  • A. HURT,

    1. Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812,
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    • **

      Present address: Working Dogs for Conservation, Bozeman, MT 59718, USA.

  • B. ADAMS,

    1. Genetics Program, Genetics Program (National Zoological Park/National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution), Washington, D.C. 20008,
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    • ††

      Present address: Department of Biology, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, LA 70504, USA.

  • M. PARKER,

    1. Wildlife Biology Program, School of Forestry, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA
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  • J. E. MALDONADO

    1. Genetics Program, Genetics Program (National Zoological Park/National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution), Washington, D.C. 20008,
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Deborah A. Smith, Fax: 206-543-3254, E-mail: debsmith@u.washington.edu.

Abstract

Noninvasive faecal DNA sampling has the potential to provide a wealth of information necessary for monitoring and managing endangered species while eliminating the need to capture, handle or observe rare individuals. However, scoring problems, and subsequent genotyping errors, associated with this monitoring method remain a great concern as they can lead to misidentification of individuals and biased estimates. We examined a kit fox scat data set (353 scats; 80 genotypes) for genotyping errors using both genetic and GIS analyses, and evaluated the feasibility of combining both approaches to assess reliability of the faecal DNA results. We further checked the appropriateness of using faecal genotypes to study kit fox populations by describing information about foxes that we could deduce from the ‘acceptable’ scat genotypes, and comparing it to information gathered with traditional field techniques. Overall, genetic tests indicated that our data set had a low rate of genotyping error. Furthermore, examination of distributions of scat locations confirmed our data set was relatively error free. We found that analysing information on sex primer consistency and scat locations provided a useful assessment of scat genotype error, and greatly limited the amount of additional laboratory work that was needed to identify potentially ‘false’ scores. ‘Acceptable’ scat genotypes revealed information on sex ratio, relatedness, fox movement patterns, latrine use, and size of home range. Results from genetic and field data were consistent, supporting the conclusion that our data set had a very low rate of genotyping error and that this noninvasive method is a reliable approach for monitoring kit foxes.

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