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The Efficacy of Obtaining Genetic-Based Identifications from Putative Wolverine Snow Tracks

Authors

  • TODD J. ULIZIO,

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    1. Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA
      E-mail: Todd_Ulizio@yahoo.com
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    • Todd J. Ulizio (photo) works with the United States Forest Service (USFS) Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) in Missoula, Montana, studying wolverine ecology in southwest Montana. He received his B.S. in 1999 and his M.S. in 2005 in wildlife biology at the University of Montana. His work has focused on carnivore ecology and management, with an emphasis on detection and monitoring of wolverine, lynx, and fisher.

  • JOHN R. SQUIRES,

    1. United States Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT 59801, USA
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    • John R. Squires is a Research Wildlife Biologist with the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station located in Missoula, Montana. He studied the effects of oil development on prairie falcons in north central Wyoming for his M.S. degree and trumpeter swan ecology in the greater Yellowstone area for his Ph.D. at the University of Wyoming. From 1991–1997, he was a resident research biologist for the Rocky Mountain Research Station studying seasonal changes in the habitat-use patterns of northern goshawks nesting in Wyoming. He now serves as the team leader for Threatened-Endangered-Sensitive species research in the RMRS Wildlife Unit in Missoula, and is currently studying lynx and wolverine ecology in Montana.

  • DANIEL H. PLETSCHER,

    1. Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA
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    • Daniel H. (Dan) Pletscher is a professor and director of the Wildlife Biology Program at the University of Montana. He holds a B.S. in wildlife management from the University of Minnesota, an M.S. in wildlife biology from Kansas State, and a Ph.D. in forestry from Yale University. He has served as President of the Montana Chapter of The Wildlife Society and chaired the steering committee for the 1999 International Wildlife Management Congress in Hungary. His research interests focus on predator-prey dynamics and endangered species.

  • MICHAEL K. SCHWARTZ,

    1. United States Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT 59801, USA
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    • Michael K. Schwartz is a research ecologist with the RMRS in Missoula, Montana. He obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Montana and is currently the team leader for the conservation genetics team at RMRS. Aside from his genetics program duties, he is finishing several ecological field studies on fisher, lynx, and wolverine.

  • JAMES J. CLAAR,

    1. Carnivore Program, Region 1, United States Forest Service, Missoula, MT 59801, USA
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    • James J. Claar is the carnivore program leader for the Northern Region, United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service in Missoula, Montana. He has a B.S. in Wildlife Biology from the University of Montana and an M.S. in Wildlife Biology from the University of Idaho. His areas of interest include threatened and endangered species management and in particular, conservation of grizzly bears, gray wolves, canada lynx, wolverine, and fisher. He serves as the national USFS coordinator for Canada lynx and wolverine conservation programs.

  • LEONARD F. RUGGIERO

    1. United States Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT 59801, USA
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    • Leonard F. (Len) Ruggiero is the Research Unit leader for the Ecology and Management of Wildlife and Habitats at the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana. He received his B.S from Rutgers University, his M.S. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and his Ph.D. from Utah State University.


E-mail: Todd_Ulizio@yahoo.com

Abstract

Snow-track surveys to detect rare carnivores require unequivocal species identification because of management and political ramifications associated with the presence of such species. Collecting noninvasive genetic samples from putative wolverine (Gulo gulo) snow tracks is an effective method for providing definitive species identification for use in Presence-Absence surveys. We completed 54 backtracks of approximately 1.4 km each and collected 169 hairs and 58 scats. Amplification rates of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) used for species identification were 62% and 24% for scats and hairs, respectively. The average distance traveled to collect a sample containing high-quality mtDNA for species identification was 1,330 m. Genetic analysis confirmed 35 snow tracks (64%) as wolverine. The remaining 19 snow tracks consisted of 8 that did not provide samples and 11 that contained nonamplifiable samples. Collection of both hairs and scats provided 28% more track verifications than would have occurred using only one type of sample. Collecting noninvasive samples from snow tracks also may provide individual wolverine identification that may provide a basis for obtaining minimum population estimates, relatedness tests, or mark-recapture population estimates given sufficient sample sizes. To that end, we analyzed nuclear DNA (nDNA) from the same samples to produce individual genotypes. Amplification rates of nDNA from scats and hairs ranged from 25% to 52% and 13% to 16%, respectively, and produced individual genotypes for 23 of the 54 snow tracks (43%).

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