A panel of microsatellites to individually identify leopards and its application to leopard monitoring in human dominated landscapes
- Equal contributors
1 National Centre for Biological Sciences, TIFR, GKVK Campus, Bellary Road, Bangalore 560065, India
2 Kaati Trust, D3, Raanwara, Bavdhan, Pune 411021, India
BMC Genetics 2009, 10:79 doi:10.1186/1471-2156-10-79Published: 4 December 2009
Leopards are the most widely distributed of the large cats, ranging from Africa to the Russian Far East. Because of habitat fragmentation, high human population densities and the inherent adaptability of this species, they now occupy landscapes close to human settlements. As a result, they are the most common species involved in human wildlife conflict in India, necessitating their monitoring. However, their elusive nature makes such monitoring difficult. Recent advances in DNA methods along with non-invasive sampling techniques can be used to monitor populations and individuals across large landscapes including human dominated ones. In this paper, we describe a DNA-based method for leopard individual identification where we used fecal DNA samples to obtain genetic material. Further, we apply our methods to non-invasive samples collected in a human-dominated landscape to estimate the minimum number of leopards in this human-leopard conflict area in Western India.
In this study, 25 of the 29 tested cross-specific microsatellite markers showed positive amplification in 37 wild-caught leopards. These loci revealed varied levels of polymorphism (four-12 alleles) and heterozygosity (0.05-0.79). Combining data on amplification success (including non-invasive samples) and locus specific polymorphisms, we showed that eight loci provide a sibling probability of identity of 0.0005, suggesting that this panel can be used to discriminate individuals in the wild. When this microsatellite panel was applied to fecal samples collected from a human-dominated landscape, we identified 7 individuals, with a sibling probability of identity of 0.001. Amplification success of field collected scats was up to 72%, and genotype error ranged from 0-7.4%.
Our results demonstrated that the selected panel of eight microsatellite loci can conclusively identify leopards from various kinds of biological samples. Our methods can be used to monitor leopards over small and large landscapes to assess population trends, as well as could be tested for population assignment in forensic applications.