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New and improved molecular sexing methods for museum bird specimens

Authors

  • TRISTAN M. BANTOCK,

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK,
    2. Bird Group, Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, Tring, Herts HP23 6AP, UK
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  • ROBERT P. PRYS-JONES,

    1. Bird Group, Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, Tring, Herts HP23 6AP, UK
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  • PATRICIA L. M. LEE

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK,
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Patricia L. M. Lee, Fax: 01792 295447; E-mail: p.l.m.lee@swansea.ac.uk

Abstract

We present two new avian molecular sexing techniques for nonpasserine and passerine birds (Neognathae), which are more suitable for use with museum specimens than earlier methods. The technique for nonpasserines is based on a new primer (M5) which, in combination with the existing P8 primer, targets a smaller amplicon in the CHD1 sex-linked gene than previously. Primers targeting ATP5A1, an avian sex-linked gene not previously used for sex identification, were developed for passerines. Comprehensive testing across species demonstrated that both primer pairs sex a range of different species within their respective taxonomic groups. Rigorous evaluation of each method within species showed that these permitted sexing of specimens dating from the 1850s. For corn bunting museum specimens, the ATP5A1 method sexed 98% of 63 samples (1857–1966). The M5/P8 CHD1 method was similarly successful, sexing 90% of 384 moorhen specimens from six different museum collections (1855–2001). In contrast, the original P2/P8 CHD1 sexing method only identified the sex of less than half of 111 museum moorhen samples. In addition to dried skin samples, these methods may be useful for other types of material that yield degraded or damaged DNA, and are hence potential new sexing tools for avian conservation genetics, population management and wildlife forensics.

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