Vallant,S.; Niederstätter,H.; Berger,B.; Lentner,R.; Parson,W.;
Noninvasive sampling, for example, of droppings or feathers, is a promising approach for molecular genetic studies on endangered and elusive animal species. Yet, such specimens are known for containing only minute amounts of DNA, resulting in lower typing success rates relative to analyses on fresh tissues such as muscle or blood. Furthermore, artefactual signals as well as contamination are more likely to occur when DNA is limited. To increase the reliability of DNA typing from noninvasive samples, optimized DNA extraction and polymerase chain reaction protocols were developed, taking advantage of developments in the forensic field aiming at successful molecular genetic analysis of DNA templates being low in quality and quantity. In the framework of an extensive monitoring project on population dynamics of capercaillie and black grouse in the Tyrolean Alps, feces samples and molted feathers from both species were collected. On a subset comprising about 200 specimens of either species, eight polymorphic short tandem repeat (STR) markers were analyzed to test these improved protocols. Besides optimizing DNA yields, both lowered sample consumption and reduced hands-on time were achieved, and the rates of informative profiles amounted to 90.7% for capercaillie and 92.4% for black grouse. Similarly, high success rates had not been achieved in earlier studies and demonstrate the benefit of the improved methodology, which should be easily adaptable for use on animal species other than those studied here. The STR genotypes were not only powerful enough to discriminate among unrelated birds but also appeared fit for telling apart closely related animals, as indicated by Pi and Pisib values. The software package allelematch aided analysis of genotypes featuring possible dropout and drop-in effects. Finally, a comparison between molecular genetic and morphology-based species-of-origin determination revealed a high degree of concordance.
Ecol Evol 2018 8:3941-3951