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Using environmental DNA methods to improve winter surveys for rare carnivores: DNA from snow and improved noninvasive techniques

Posted date: November 29, 2018
Publication Year: 
Authors: Franklin, Thomas W.McKelvey, Kevin S.Golding, Jessie; Mason, Daniel H.; Dysthe, JosephPilgrim, Kristine L.Squires, John R.; Aubry, Keith B.; Long, Robert A.; Greaves, Samuel; Raley, Catherine M.; Jackson, Scott; MacKay, Paula; Lisbon, Joshua; Sauder, Joel D.; Pruss, Michael T.; Heffington, Don; Schwartz, Michael K.
Publication Series: 
Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Source: Biological Conservation. 229: 50-58.


The management of rare species is a conservation priority worldwide, but this task is made difficult by detection errors in population surveys. Both false positive (misidentification) and false negative (missed detection) errors are prevalent in surveys for rare species and can affect resulting inferences about their population status or distribution. Environmental DNA (eDNA)—DNA shed from an organism in its environment—coupled with quantitative PCR (qPCR) analyses, has become a reliable and extremely sensitive mean for identifying rare species in aquatic systems. Due to the demonstrated effectiveness of these methods, we tested their efficacy in surveys for rare species in terrestrial settings to reduce detection errors for three rare forest carnivores of conservation concern: Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), fisher (Pekania pennanti), and wolverine (Gulo gulo). We specifically investigated our ability to reliably: 1) identify species directly from snow samples collected within tracks; 2) identify species by collecting snow in locations where an animal had been photographed; and 3) identify species from hair samples collected during the summer after being deployed throughout the winter (i.e., overwinter surveys). Our findings indicated that qPCR assays can effectively detect DNA of all three species, including from snow-track surveys, snow collected at camera stations, and overwinter samples that failed to amplify with conventional PCR techniques. All results indicate that the sources of targeted DNA collection provided adequate quantities of DNA for robust species detection. We suggest that using qPCR methods to detect DNA has the potential to revolutionize winter surveys for rare species in terrestrial settings by reducing or eliminating misidentifications and missed detections.


Franklin, Thomas W.; McKelvey, Kevin S.; Golding, Jessie D.; Mason, Daniel H.; Dysthe, Joseph C.; Pilgrim, Kristine L.; Squires, John R.; Aubry, Keith B.; Long, Robert A.; Greaves, Samuel E.; Raley, Catherine M.; Jackson, Scott; MacKay, Paula; Lisbon, Joshua; Sauder, Joel D.; Pruss, Michael T.; Heffington, Don; Schwartz, Michael K. 2019. Using environmental DNA methods to improve winter surveys for rare carnivores: DNA from snow and improved noninvasive techniques. Biological Conservation. 229: 50-58.
National Strategic Program Areas: 
Wildlife and Fish