DNA-Based Mark-Recapture of Wild Deer: Using Fauns to Capture their Mothers

A lack of affordable techniques for accurately estimating the density of wild animals has long been a major constraint in wildlife management. An important breakthrough has been the use of DNA fingerprinting in conjunction with mark-recapture (MR) methods of density estimation (Taberlet et al. 1997; Mowat and Strowbeck 2000). Provided the DNA fingerprint from each individual is unique and can be recognised on two or more occasions, mark-recapture methods can be used to estimate the absolute numbers of animals present. The main challenge is often to find ways to obtain DNA cheaply from the population. To date, the most interest has centred on using hair of faeces, because use of such ‘non-invasive’ sources of DNA avoids the cost of capturing the animal. In pest management, however, a high proportion of the population is often killed annually, providing a potentially low cost ‘recapture’ option for animals ‘marked’ by previous or simultaneous recovery of DNA from hair of faeces. In New Zealand, this approach has already been applied to brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) and stoats (Mustela erminea) (Nugent et al. 2003; Byron et al. 2004).

In our previous attempt to estimate absolute densities of wild deer, however, we were unable to obtain DNA of sufficient quality to reliably identify individual deer from faeces or shed hair. We therefore explored the practicality of using parentage assessment based on a sample of killed animals, an approach first applied to estimating numbers of painted turtles (Chrysemus picta) in Mississippi (Pearse et al. 2001).

Author Nugent, G., Whitford, J. and McEwan, M.
Date 2005-05-02
Year 2005
Secondary title 13th Australasian Vertebrate Pest Conference
Place published Wellington, NZ
Publisher Landcare Research
Pages 91-95
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