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Keywords:

  • faecal samples;
  • genetic tagging;
  • NGS;
  • PCR optimization;
  • pre-amplification;
  • Ursus arctos

Abstract

Among the key issues determining success of a study employing molecular genetics tools in wildlife monitoring or research is a large enough set of highly informative genetic markers and a reliable, cost effective method for their analysis. While optimized commercial genotyping kits have been developed for humans and domestic animals, such protocols are rare in wildlife research. We developed a highly optimized multiplex PCR that genotypes 12 microsatellite loci and a sex determination locus in brown bear (Ursus arctos) faecal samples in a single multiplex PCR and a single sequencer run. We used this protocol to genotype 1053 faecal samples of bears from the Dinaric population, and obtained useful genotypes for 88% of the samples, a very high success rate. The new protocol outperformed the multiplex pre-amplification strategy used in a previous study of 473 faecal samples with a 78.4% success rate. On a subset of 182 samples we directly compared the performance of both approaches, and found no advantage of the multiplex pre-amplification. While pre-amplification protocols might still improve PCR success and reliability on a small fraction of low-quality samples, the higher costs and workload do not justify their use when analysing reasonably fresh non-invasive material. Moreover, the high number of multiplexed loci in the new protocol makes it comparable to commercially developed genotyping kits developed for domestic animals and humans.