Faecal DNA amplification in Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens)
Dietary information is critical for assessing the population status of seals, sea lions and walruses—and is determined for most species of pinnipeds using non-invasive methods. However, diets of walruses continue to be described from the stomach contents of dead individuals. Our goal was to assess whether DNA could be extracted from the faeces of Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) collected at haulout sites, and whether potential prey species or taxa could be amplified from that DNA. We extracted DNA from 70 faecal samples collected from ice pans in the Bering Sea during the spring of 2008 and 2009 (with between 4.6 and 308.9 ng/μl of DNA in every sample). We also extracted DNA from 12 potential prey species or taxa collected by bottom-grabs in 2009 to identify positive controls for primers and to test the ability of previously published taxon-specific and species-specific primers to correctly identify the prey using conventional PCR. We tested primers that successfully amplified DNA from the tissue of at least one potential prey species or taxon on all 70 walrus faecal samples. We found that two sets of primers successfully amplified many of the potential prey species or taxa using DNA from their tissue, and that one of these primer sets produced positive amplification in 4 of the 70 faecal samples. The band size that was produced for prey organisms and in the faecal samples was consistent with expectations, although prey identities were not verified with sequencing. Our pilot study demonstrates that DNA can be successfully extracted and amplified from walrus faeces, providing a stepping stone towards describing the diets of walruses from faecal DNA.
KeywordsPacific walrus PCR Prey identification Faecal DNA
We thank Jacqueline Grebmeier for providing and identifying bottom-grab samples, Chad Jay and Tony Fischbach for assistance in collecting walrus scats, and Patricia Schulte and Sean Rogers for use of laboratory equipment. We also thank Chad Jay and two reviewers for their constructive comments. DNA analysis was funded by the US Geological Survey, and prey and faecal samples were obtained with the support of the National Science Foundation and the North Pacific Research Board through the Bering Sea Integrated Research Program. This study was part of BEST-BSIERP Bering Sea Project # 81, and is NPRB publication # 396.
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