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Forensic survey of endangered species

DNA traces are being used to monitor endangered species.

What animals leave behind has long been used to track them, whether it is their poo or their foot markings.   Animals leave signs intentionally or otherwise.  They mark their territory, they leave deposits, they rub, scratch, dig, muzzle, lick, and almost everything they do will leave some kind of trace for a time.  Animal tracking is forensic craft.

Just as DNA traces can be left at crime scenes, so animals leave their trace too.  Forensic scientists are able to analyze smaller and smaller biological samples to develop a DNA profile - a person touched an object or weapon, skin cells may have been left behind or from their saliva.

Now, DNA traces left in water are being used to monitor endangered species that would otherwise be difficult to survey.

In a study just published, the authors have used DNA traces to monitor the presence of the endangered Gouldian finch, Erythrura gouldiae, a small bird endemic to northern Australia.

The DNA test for finches and the Gouldian finch-specific test were positive for waterholes where Gouldian and other finch species were observed each morning over 3 days.

When no Gouldian finches were observed for up to 72 h prior to water sampling, the Gouldian test was negative.

The authors say

 "This approach could be developed for broad-scale monitoring of this endangered species, and potentially applied to a much broader range of terrestrial species that shed DNA into water bodies."
This is significant because it enables biologists and conservationists to focus not just on animals that are easily seen or heard, but also those whose trace can be minute.

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