Molecular Tagging

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Molecular tagging is a new application of molecular genetic techniques to traditional mark-recapture methodology designed to address situations where traditional methods fail. In such studies, non-invasively collected samples (such as feces, feathers, or fur) are used as a source of DNA that is then genotyped at multiple loci such that each individual animal can be uniquely identified. Thus, each individual’s DNA represents a unique tag analogous to a band or other mark used in traditional mark-recapture studies.

Molecular Tagging - Current Research

Wild horse herd
A wild horse herd aerial photo. USGS photo.

Non-invasive Genetic Sampling of Free-roaming Horses to Estimate Population Size, Genetic Diversity, and Consumption of Invasive Species - Principal Investigator - Kate Schoenecker

Molecular tagging is a new application of molecular genetic techniques to traditional mark-recapture methodology designed to address situations where traditional methods fail. In such studies, non-invasively collected samples (such as feces, feathers, or fur) are used as a source of DNA that is then genotyped at multiple loci such that each individual animal can be uniquely identified. Thus, each individual’s DNA represents a unique tag analogous to a band or other mark used in traditional mark-recapture studies.

There is a stated need for robust, repeatable, and transparent methods to estimate the size of free-roaming horse populations. Current population estimates are mostly based on aerial surveys, which are expensive, risky, and can be biased if protocols are not carefully followed or if a substantial proportion of the population is essentially invisible to observers. This study involves developing a new method for estimating horse population sizes based on non-invasive techniques; using genetic analysis of fecal samples (dung) and mark-recapture population estimation models. This research is in collaboration with Colorado State University and BLM.

 

A mountain lion in a pen at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife offices in Fort Collins, CO.
A mountain lion in a pen at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife offices in Fort Collins, CO. Mindy Ritchie, contractor to the USGS.

Estimating Mountain Lion Population Sizes and Demographic Rates in Colorado - Principal Investigator - Sara Oyler McCance

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is interested in monitoring mountain lion population sizes and demographic rates using mark-recapture techniques. In this study hair and fecal samples are being collected at baited sites opportunistically and used to uniquely identify individuals.  This project was initiated to obtain capture/recapture data on mountain lions along the Front Range of Colorado. This research is in collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

 

Monitoring the Distribution of Introduced Lynx in Colorado - Principal Investigator - Sara Oyler McCance

In 1999, a Canada Lynx restoration program was initiated by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and has been successful in reestablishing Lynx in Colorado. Current monitoring efforts include confirming occupancy of habitat using fecal DNA methods that confirm species identification as well as individual identification. This research is in collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.  

an Indiana bat hanging on to a tree trunk
An Indiana bat hanging on to a tree. (Myotis sodalis) Photo by Adam Mann, FWS.

Using Molecular Genetic Techniques to Investigate Colony Dynamics of the Endangered Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis) - Principal Investigator - Sara Oyler McCance

The need for accurate demographic information is great for the management and recovery of the Indiana bat. This project aims to evaluate the use of molecular tagging techniques to estimate population sizes in this species. We are interested in determining whether we can estimate abundance at one roost site throughout the summer using fecal DNA as a unique mark for mark-recapture population estimation models. We are also interested in determining if we can detect new individuals in the later part of the summer that would represent juveniles. This study is revealing that fecal pellets collected from Indiana bats are a good source of DNA that can be used successfully to estimate both colony size and number of juveniles recruiting into the population. This research is in collaboration with Indiana State University.

Use of Molecular Tagging to Estimate Demographic Parameters in Gunnison Sage-grouse - Principal Investigator - Sara Oyler McCance

Successful conservation efforts for Gunnison Sage-grouse require an accurate method for inventory and monitoring population sizes. The objective of this study is to examine the feasibility of this molecular application to population size estimation of Gunnison Sage-grouse. Specifically, we are using molecular tagging methods to estimate population sizes on five different leks within the Gunnison Basin using DNA extracted from fecal pellets collected on those leks.  This analysis will compare population size estimates made using lek counts with those using molecular tagging methodologies and provide information needed to successfully monitor and manage Gunnison sage-grouse. This research is in collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

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