Science Reviews - Biology

Charlotte E. Hacker. Decoding the Dna of scat and the application of genetic methodologies to understanding carnivore diet

Posted on: Aug 28, 2023, 13:16:18

Description: Carnivore species are vital to ecosystem function and maintenance. One key component to understanding carnivore ecology and the most effective means of management is knowledge of dietary resource use. Traditional methods used to study carnivore diet, such as microhistology, have several technical and logistical shortcomings. These have hindered the quality and quantity of data that shape understanding of how carnivores exploit prey. Advances in genetic methodologies and their application to wildlife biology has transformed the manner in which information about species can be gained. DNA metabarcoding is one such example. With this approach, genetic sequences present in scat can be determined via next-generation sequencing and matched to reference databases, revealing the carnivore that deposited the scat and the prey it consumed. DNA metabarcoding has the ability to overcome many of the previous challenges associated with dietary analysis and works to advance and inform current knowledge surrounding carnivore ecology, predator-prey relationships, conflicts between carnivores and humans, and potential adaptability to large-scale landscape shifts. Its use has provided novel insights on numerous carnivore species to help inform research priorities and wildlife policies, including those living in unique fragile environments such as the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau of China. The continued development and increased capacity of molecular dietary analysis via DNA metabarcoding has the promise to grossly improve carnivore conservation management strategies on a global scale.

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