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Forensic tools for catching poachers
Date:8/6/2012

ly two to five -- seven of which had limited geographical distribution.

They identified 108 unique mtDNA sequences, which provided fine-scale information about the origin of the ivory. Among the sequences, 72 percent were found in only one locality and 84 percent of them were country-specific. Although many elephants can have the same sequence, 44 percent of the individual elephants carried a sequence detected only at their sampling locality.

Roca and his team combined these results with five earlier trans-national surveys, which allowed them to examine a shorter region of elephant mtDNA in 81 locations in 22 African countries. Among the 101 unique short sequences detected, 62 percent were present in only one country.

More importantly, the phylogeographic signal (the geographic information provided by mtDNA) was different from the signal provided by nuclear DNA markers used in previous studies. Nuclear markers distinguished between forest and savanna elephants; the mtDNA marker indicated a precise location. The best method would be to combine both types of markers.

Roca hopes that the method developed in this research will be used by conservationists to determine the provenance of confiscated ivory. "It is often hard to trace ivory back to where it came from," he said. "A ship may have left from a certain port in Africa, but that's not necessarily the country where the elephants were poached."

Sequencing the mtDNA can give a good indication of where the ivory is being poached. "Then steps can be taken by that particular country to prevent the poaching from taking place," said Roca.

The research has just been published in Evolutionary Applications.


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Contact: Susan Jongeneel
sjongene@illinois.edu
217-333-3291
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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