Categories: Applied Chemistry | 1 Comment
Experienced trackers know exactly which species of animals are around from looking at their poo. But to do that, they need to get their hands on a good quality stool. Conditions aren’t always favourable for faecal preservation – rain, insect or other animal activity, health and diet of the animal can all conspire to make traditional identification tricky if not impossible.
— The face of a mountain lion. Released by Digital Art here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalart/ under CC-BY licence
This can be a real problem when tracking rare, elusive or endangered species, such as mountain lions. To understand population dynamics and evaluate conservation projects, we need to know how many animals are in which locations. Where the animals are too few and far between to use mark-release-recapture techniques, ecologists are increasingly turning to chemistry for new identification tools.
Genetic analysis seems like the obvious way to go. By analysing DNA found in dung, one can identify not just the species, but the individual animal. This sort of analysis has been demonstrated in a number of species and is now involved several conservation projects. For just £50 +P&P, you can send a sample off to a company in Warwickshire, who can identify most British mammalian species – very useful for determining what species of bat is nesting in your loft, or if you’re not sure whether a fox or a pine marten has been using your privet as a privy. (more…)