Described as a non-invasive approach to identifying and tracking animals, genetic tagging uses an animal’s DNA from their feces, saliva and hair.
Over the years, ecologists and conservation officials have experimented with numerous tracking and identification methods in a quest to get the data they need to answer these questions.
Now, in a recent article published in Ecological Applications, researchers from UBC Okanagan and the University of Alberta have found that genetic tagging—tracking individual animals using DNA collected in their habitat—can be a powerful tool in collecting this data.
“Using these detection histories, we’re able to get so much information on what’s going on in nature,” said Adam Ford, assistant professor in biology at UBCO and Canada research chair in wildlife restoration ecology. “We’re using this data to generate density maps, detect trend populations, identify migrants, and individually identify problem wildlife. We can also use DNA to incriminate poachers.”
“Tags work well, particularly for smaller mammals, but you have to capture the animal first, and then somehow recapture it—and do this in a way that’s safe for you and them,” said Ford.
For example, bears scratch their backs on what researchers call “rub trees”. They can then, collect the hair residue on the bark of the tree.
By taking a closer look at measuring tools like genetic tagging, Ford said ecologists will not just be able to describe a trend of the animals, but also understand why numbers are shifting and what they can do about it.