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DNA better than eyes when counting endangered species
Date:3/7/2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Using genetic methods to count endangered eagles, a group of scientists showed that traditional counting methods can lead to significantly incorrect totals that they believe could adversely affect conservation efforts.

Andrew DeWoody, a professor of genetics at Purdue University; Jamie Ivy, population manager at the San Diego Zoo; and Todd Katzner, a research assistant professor at the University of West Virginia, found that visual counts of imperial and white-tailed sea eagles in the Narzum National Nature Reserve of Kazakhstan significantly underestimated the imperial eagle population there. Using DNA from eagle feathers gathered in the area, the researchers were able to identify individual DNA fingerprints for each bird.

The technique showed that there were 414 eagles, more than three times as many as had been visually observed, and more than two and a half times more than modeling suggested would be there.

"A biologist doesn't always see them coming and going," said DeWoody, whose findings were published in the early online version of the journal Animal Conservation. "Eagles are difficult to capture, mark and resight. Biologists in the field can't differentiate individuals, whereas by a genetic fingerprint geneticists can differentiate among individuals that have visited a site."

DeWoody, Ivy and Katzner, with collaborator Evgeny Bragin of the Narzum Natural Nature Reserve collected thousands of eagle feathers around roosts and nesting sites. DeWoody's team at Purdue was able to extract DNA from those feathers and determine that there were hundreds of eagles that had recently visited the site.

"Generally we say 'what you see is what you get,' but in this case it's the complete opposite," said Katzner, who used the data to model more accurate estimates of eagle populations. "When your field data are off by that much, it's difficult to build accurate models because your starting poi
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Contact: Brian Wallheimer
bwallhei@purdue.edu
765-496-2050
Purdue University
Source:Eurekalert  

Page: 1 2

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