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A simplified field protocol for genetic sampling of birds using buccal swabs

February 26, 2018

DNA sampling is an essential prerequisite for conducting population genetic studies. For many years, blood sampling has been the preferred method for obtaining DNA in birds because of their nucleated red blood cells. Nonetheless, use of buccal swabs has been gaining favor because they are less invasive yet still yield adequate amounts of DNA for amplifying mitochondrial and nuclear markers; however, buccal swab protocols often include steps (e.g., extended air-drying and storage under frozen conditions) not easily adapted to field settings. Furthermore, commercial extraction kits and swabs for buccal sampling can be expensive for large population studies. We therefore developed an efficient, cost-effective, and field-friendly protocol for sampling wild birds after comparing DNA yield among 3 inexpensive buccal swab types (2 with foam tips and 1 with a cotton tip). Extraction and amplification success was high (100% and 97.2% respectively) using inexpensive generic swabs. We found foam-tipped swabs provided higher DNA yields than cotton-tipped swabs. We further determined that omitting a drying step and storing swabs in Longmire buffer increased efficiency in the field while still yielding sufficient amounts of DNA for detailed population genetic studies using mitochondrial and nuclear markers. This new field protocol allows time- and cost-effective DNA sampling of juveniles or small-bodied birds for which drawing blood may cause excessive stress to birds and technicians alike.

Publication Year 2018
Title A simplified field protocol for genetic sampling of birds using buccal swabs
DOI 10.1676/16-105.1
Authors Julia T. Vilstrup, Thomas D. Mullins, Mark P. Miller, Will McDearman, Jeffrey R. Walters, Susan M. Haig
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wilson Journal of Ornithology
Index ID 70195578
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center