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National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation

A camera trap photo of a red fox climbing a tree in a snowy forest.

Non-Invasive Genetic Sampling

Non-invasive genetic sampling uses forensic-style DNA samples, such as hair, scats and feathers collected without ever seeing an animal, to monitor rare and sensitive species. This non-invasive approach offers a number of advantages over conventional methods, including increased probability of "capturing" an individual, reduced loss of tags, and minimizing the effects of capture and tagging on animals. The NGC has over 20 years' experience processing non-invasive samples.

A scientist in a lab coat standing over a piece of genetic analysis equipment.


Population Genetics

Non-invasive samples, as well as traditional blood and tissue samples, are useful for population genetics, the study of the genetic composition and connectivity of populations. The formal linking of these samples to specific landscapes is called landscape genetics. These samples can also be used in a genetic mark-recapture framework in order to monitor populations and track movement of individuals through time and space and for the analysis of hybridization.  Samples can be combined with our existing genetic databases in order to ask broader landscape questions and provide greater understandings of species' distribution and population dynamics.  

Hands holding an arrow over a styrofoam lid.
An arrow submitted to NGC for DNA testing of recovered tissue. Photo by Inga Ortloff.

Forensic Samples

The USFS NGC is a member lab of the Society for Wildlife Forensic Sciences and has protocols in place to process forensic samples.  We analyze samples related to law enforcement cases for State and Federal agencies when our databases can provide valuable information.  If you are a land manager with a forensic/law enforcement case that we may assist you with, please contact lab supervisor Kristy Pilgrim (

A photograph of an animal skull, pointed directly at the teeth. An antique tag next to the skull says \"Furs, Hides, & Pelts\", with handwritten notes.
1896 Fisher skull sampled at Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. Photo by Mike Schwartz

Historical/Ancient Samples

The NGC has a dedicated Ancient DNA laboratory and extensive expertise in working with historic/ancient DNA, primarily from museum specimens. Such samples are incredibly valuable for providing genetic context and a historical picture for comparison to modern samples.

A picture of a stonefly
Arsapnia. arapahoe X A. decepta hybrid male specimen. Photo by Chris Verdone.


Cryptic Species

The NGC can help with species identification and phylogenetic context for species that are difficult to identify without morphological expertise, such as many invertebrates. We have several ongoing projects identifying stoneflies, butterflies, springsnails, and other gastropods.  


  • Species Identification
  • Individual Identification
  • Sex Identification
  • Re-capture Analysis
  • Population Assignment
  • Population Genetic Analysis
  • Landscape Genetic Analysis
  • Forensic/Law Enforcement Samples
  • Ancient/Historic DNA


Selected Publications

A full list of searchable NGC publications can be found here.

  1. Roffler, Gretchen H.; Talbot, Sandra L.; Luikart, Gordon; Sage, George K.; Pilgrim, Kristy L.; Adams, Layne G.; Schwartz, Michael K. 2014. Lack of sex-biased dispersal promotes fine-scale genetic structure in alpine ungulates. Conservation Genetics. 15:4 837-851.
  2. Olson, Lucretia E.; Sauder, Joel D.; Albrecht, Nathan M.; Vinkey, Ray S.; Cushman, Samuel A.; Schwartz, Michael K. 2014. Modeling the effects of dispersal and patch size on predicted fisher (Pekania [Martes] pennanti) distribution in the U.S. Rocky Mountains. Biological Conservation. 169: 89-98.
  3. Tucker, Jody M.; Schwartz, Michael K.; Truex, Richard L.; Pilgrim, Kristine L.; Allendorf, Fred W. 2012. Historical and contemporary DNA indicate fisher decline and isolation occurred prior to the European settlement of California. PLoS ONE. 7(12): e52803.
  4. Russell, Robin E.; Royle, J. Andrew; Desimone, Richard; Schwartz, Michael K.; Edwards, Victoria L.; Pilgrim, Kristy P.; McKelvey, Kevin S. 2012. Estimating abundance of mountain lions from unstructured spatial sampling. The Journal of Wildlife Management. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.412.
  5. Brinkman, Todd J.; Person, David K.; Schwartz, Michael K.; Pilgrim, Kristine L.; Colson, Kevin E.; Hundertmark, Kris J. 2010. Individual identification of Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) using DNA from fecal pellets. Conservation Genetics Resources. 2: 115-118.
  6. Marucco, Francesca; Pletscher, Daniel H.; Boitani, Luigi; Schwartz, Michael K.; Pilgrim, Kristy L.; Lebreton, Jean-Dominique. 2009. Wolf survival and population trend using non-invasive capture-recapture techniques in the Western Alps. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2009.01696.x_ 2009.
  7. Schwartz, Michael K.; Luikart, Gordon; Waples Robin S. 2007. Genetic monitoring as a promising tool for conservation and management. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2006.08.009.

Working With Us

If you are interested in working with us on genetic sampling, please contact Kristy Pilgrim (