A non-invasive genetic method to identify the sympatric mustelids pine marten (Martes martes) and stone marten (Martes foina): preliminary distribution survey on the northern Iberian Peninsula
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The closely related mustelids European pine marten (Martes martes) and stone marten (Martes foina) sympatrically inhabit a large area of Europe. However, given our limited knowledge of their bioecological relationships, their extremely elusive behaviour and the fact that their faeces cannot be distinguished on the basis of morphology alone, it is very difficult to monitor their populations. In this study, we describe a reliable non-invasive polymerase chain reaction (PCR)–restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) method for distinguishing between M. martes and M. foina based on the analysis of deoxyribonucleic acid extracted from faeces samples. The method was specifically designed to avoid possible interference from potential prey mammals and other sympatric carnivores. The procedure consists of PCR amplifying a mitochondrial D-loop region followed by digesting the resulting 276-bp-long amplicons with the restriction enzymes HaeIII and RsaI. To assess the efficiency of this technique, we conducted a preliminary field study across the potential sympatric distribution areas of both marten species in the northern Iberian Peninsula. Out of 359 faeces samples collected, we identified 80 as specimens from the stone marten and 235 from the pine marten. Unequivocal species identification was thus possible in 88% of the faeces samples collected. These findings reveal the combined use of non-invasive genetic sampling and GIS technology to be a reliable and cost-effective procedure for improving our knowledge of the spatial distributions of sympatric marten species. This protocol could also be used to identify and improve information gaps, to develop effective research and management programmes and in population and landscape genetics studies of marten species.