Conservation Genetics

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 267-271

First online:

PCR-based sexing in conservation biology: Wrong answers from an accurate methodology?

  • Bruce C. RobertsonAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury Email author 
  • , Neil J. GemmellAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury

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Molecular tests of sex based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) are now commonplace in conservation biology, routinely guiding management decisions. While molecular approaches to sexing can be highly reliable, current practices may leave an undesirable level of uncertainty in the sexes identified, because researchers focus on determining the sex-specific nature of a test, largely ignoring the accuracy of the test to correctly sex individuals. This latter step requires considerably more known-sex individuals. We argue that, due to the well-known technical problems associated with PCR amplification, the demonstrated potential for sexing errors and few known-sex individuals being available from threatened species, conservationists should place greater emphasis on verifying the sexes identified with PCR tests. We propose that all individuals of the sex indistinguishable from an amplification failure (e.g., females in mammals XX, males in birds ZZ) should be verified with a second independent sex test. Such a consensus approach to molecular sexing would reduce errors that could arise due to technical failure and PCR anomalies, but may also reduce field and laboratory bookkeeping errors.


consensus sex conservation molecular sexing sexing errors