Poop is Brown Gold: Genetic Analysis with Tara Wilson and Misa Winters

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Misa Winters and Tara Wilson about laboratory analysis of scat after field collection.

Science Highlight: Duration of urination does not change with body size

What can we learn from our scat samples?

  • Genetic analysis (what species, what individual, what did it eat, sex typing)
  • Morphological diet analysis (fur, bones, teeth, plants, insects)
  • Microbiome (bacteria and immune system interaction)
  • Parasites, pathogen analysis (bacteria and viral disease)
  • Hormonal analysis (stress, pregnancy, nutrition, relative age)
  • Age (isotope data)
  • Hormones in particular are great from scat because it is more representative of an animal over time, versus a blood sample which is a smaller snapshot in time and could be skewed by the stress of capturing or darting an animal.

What questions from samples are harder/easier to answer?

Easier:

  • Species ID from mitochondrial DNA (if you have good reference data)
  • Prey analysis (if you have a targeted strategy – e.g. it’s hard to use a single genetic marker to analyze ALL prey but it depends on if you’re looking for mammals, birds, fish, etc.)
  • Pregnancy (but actually need three assays estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone which can also point to a juvenile or adult).
  • Stress – is it nutritional or environmental (T3 or cortisol)

Harder:

  • Individual capture-mark-recapture since it uses nuclear DNA and relies on a good resampling scheme.
  • How many animals are on the landscape? Especially when using prey data, you have to make a lot of assumptions about how many predators can eat from the same prey species. We also know that DNA from prey is not equally represented after digestion, it will depend on the tissue ingested too.

Where to find Misa Winters:  Website | Instagram | Lab Instagram

Where to find Tara Wilson: Instagram

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