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TECHNICAL ADVANCES: Effects of genotyping protocols on success and errors in identifying individual river otters (Lontra canadensis) from their faeces


Merav Ben-David, Fax: (307) 766-5625; E-mail:


In noninvasive genetic sampling, when genotyping error rates are high and recapture rates are low, misidentification of individuals can lead to overestimation of population size. Thus, estimating genotyping errors is imperative. Nonetheless, conducting multiple polymerase chain reactions (PCRs) at multiple loci is time-consuming and costly. To address the controversy regarding the minimum number of PCRs required for obtaining a consensus genotype, we compared consumer-style the performance of two genotyping protocols (multiple-tubes and ‘comparative method’) in respect to genotyping success and error rates. Our results from 48 faecal samples of river otters (Lontra canadensis) collected in Wyoming in 2003, and from blood samples of five captive river otters amplified with four different primers, suggest that use of the comparative genotyping protocol can minimize the number of PCRs per locus. For all but five samples at one locus, the same consensus genotypes were reached with fewer PCRs and with reduced error rates with this protocol compared to the multiple-tubes method. This finding is reassuring because genotyping errors can occur at relatively high rates even in tissues such as blood and hair. In addition, we found that loci that amplify readily and yield consensus genotypes, may still exhibit high error rates (7–32%) and that amplification with different primers resulted in different types and rates of error. Thus, assigning a genotype based on a single PCR for several loci could result in misidentification of individuals. We recommend that programs designed to statistically assign consensus genotypes should be modified to allow the different treatment of heterozygotes and homozygotes intrinsic to the comparative method.