Conservation Genetics

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 1037–1046 | Cite as

The application of non-invasive genetic tagging reveals new insights into the clay lick use by macaws in the Peruvian Amazon

  • George OlahEmail author
  • Robert G. Heinsohn
  • Donald J. Brightsmith
  • Rod Peakall
Research Article


Genetic tagging, the unique identification of individuals by their DNA profile, has proven to be an effective method for research on several animal species. In this study we apply non-invasive genetic tagging from feather samples to reveal the genetic structure and estimate local population size of red-and-green macaws (Ara chloropterus) without the need to capture these animals. The study was centered in the Tambopata region of the Peruvian Amazon. Here macaws frequently visit clay licks and their naturally molted feathers provide a unique source of non-invasively sampled DNA. We analyzed 249 feathers using nine microsatellite loci and identified 221 unique genotypes. The remainder revealed 21 individuals which were ‘recaptured’ one or more times. Using a capture-mark-recapture model the average number of different individuals visiting clay licks within one breeding season was estimated to fall between 84 and 316 individuals per clay lick. Analysis of population genetic structure revealed only small genetic differences among regions and clay licks, suggesting a single red-and-green macaw genetic population. Our study confirms the utility of non-invasive genetic tagging in harsh tropical environment to obtain crucial population parameters about an abundant parrot species that is very difficult to capture in the wild.


Parrot Ara chloropterus Clay lick Feather Genetic tagging Microsatellite CMR 



This research was supported by funds from the Rufford Small Grants Foundation, Loro Parque Foundation, Idea Wild, and The Australian National University. Thanks to the Peruvian crew of this project for their enormous help with sample collection and field logistics: Braulio Poje Mishaja, Andres Veras, Jerico Solis, Crissel Vargas, Lizzie Ortiz, Gabriela Vigo, Nancy Carlos, Mabe Aguirre, Gustavo Martinez, the full staff and guides of Rainforest Expeditions, and the volunteers of the Tambopata Macaw Project. Thanks to George Powell and the WWF for providing some extra feather samples from Peru. Thanks for laboratory technical support to Christine Hayes and Cintia Garai. We thank for the laboratory space provided by the Unidad de Biotecnología Molecular, Laboratorio de Investigación y Desarrollo, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru. Samples were collected under research permits from the Servicio Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas (SERNANP) in Peru. Genetic access to the samples was granted by the Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre (SERFOR) in Peru. CITES permits were provided by the Peruvian and Australian authorities (No 15PE000448/SP, No PWS2015-AU-001508). We thank to the anonymous reviewers whose constructive suggestions and comments improved the quality of this paper.

Supplementary material

10592_2017_954_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (204 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 204 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fenner School of Environment and SocietyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Research School of BiologyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, Schubot Exotic Bird Health CenterTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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