A new sampling method for monitoring jaguars through their poop
The Jaguar, Panthera onca (Felidae) is the largest cat of the Americas, and the only living representative of the genus Panthera found in the New World. Historically it ranged from the southwestern US (where there are still some vagrants close to the Mexican border) through the Amazon basin to the Rio Negro in Argentina.
The Jaguar has been virtually eliminated from much of the drier northern parts of its range, as well as northern Brazil, the pampas scrub grasslands of Argentina and throughout Uruguay. It is now estimated to occupy only about 46% of its historic range, and is considered a Near Threatened species.
Since the global population of jaguars has decreased significantly, and given the scarcity of demographic and biological information, estimating population parameters is critical for the design of conservation measures. However, the jaguar’s elusive behaviour makes it impossible to estimate and monitor populations by direct observation.
Recently it has been proposed a non-invasive genetic sampling approach with potential for large-scale monitoring. This method allows sex identification through faecal samples of jaguars and other felids. Furthermore, it has been optimized a set of 11 microsatellite markers for reliable identification of individuals.
The effectiveness of faecal sample genotyping was estimated in two distinct Brazilian biomes: the Pantanal and the semi-arid Caatinga. Almost 90% of the samples that were molecularly identified as jaguar (n = 90) were successfully genotyped and were assigned to 30 individuals.
This proposal shows that non-invasive genetic sampling can be a reliable tool to study population parameters and to monitor the genetic status of jaguar populations in different habitats. It may also be useful for future surveys of jaguars that address ecological, behavioural and conservation issues, and could provide a baseline for non-invasive genetic studies of other wild felid populations.
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Photo credit: ©Thierry Montford | Locality: French Guiana (2014)