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Scat DNA provides important data for effective monitoring of mammal and bird biodiversity


Despite the roles they play in ecosystem function, animals have have long been neglected in the monitoring of ecological restoration. Vertebrate surveys can be time consuming and costly, often requiring multiple methodologies and taxonomic expertise, making comprehensive monitoring cost prohibitive. Here, we evaluate a new method of assessing mammal and bird diversity through the genetic identification of scat collections. Using DNA metabarcoding of scat collections from three bioregions, we generated bird and mammalian assemblage data and distinguished between sites with different restoration histories. However, scat detectability was affected by environmental conditions (e.g. rainfall and vegetative cover), suggesting that our approach is most applicable at certain times of year or in arid (or semi-arid) environments with rocky soils, where conditions are favourable for scat preservation. Taken together these data provide a pathway to: plan, monitor and establish best-practice when restoring landscapes and add to the growing body of literature on the value of DNA metabarcoding in biomonitoring applications.

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Sequencing and sample data and is available at the Dryad Digital Repository:


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This work was supported by resources provided by the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre with funding from the Australian Government and the Government of Western Australia. This work was supported by the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Mine Site Restoration (ICI150100041). We thank the mining companies BHP, Hanson Construction Materials, and South32 for facilitating access to sites for sampling. We would also like to thank Sheree Walters for help with sample collection and the members of the Trace and Environmental DNA (TrEnD) Laboratory for support with metabarcoding workflows and bioinformatics. We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which this research was undertaken and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

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MvH conducted the study and wrote the manuscript. MvH, PN, MB, NW, and GW-J were involved in the experimental design. Samples were collected and processed by MvH; molecular and bioinformatics work was performed by MvH; all data was analyzed and processed by MvH; statistical analysis was done by MvH; the manuscript was edited by all authors.

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Correspondence to M. van der Heyde.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Rajeev Raghavan.

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van der Heyde, M., Bateman, P.W., Bunce, M. et al. Scat DNA provides important data for effective monitoring of mammal and bird biodiversity. Biodivers Conserv 30, 3585–3602 (2021).

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  • eDNA
  • Vertebrate
  • Scat
  • Restoration
  • Genomics
  • Metabarcoding