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Validation of non-invasive genetic tagging in two large macaw species (Ara macao and A. chloropterus) of the Peruvian Amazon


Genetic tagging is the unique identification of individuals by their DNA profile. This technique is well established in mammals, but it has not yet been widely adopted for birds. Extraction methods for minute amounts of DNA even enable the use of genetic tagging from non-invasive samples, like hair, scat, or feather. In this study, we evaluate the potential for non-invasive genetic tagging by using molted feathers of two sympatric macaw species in the Peruvian Amazon. Correct species identification is critical when relying on feathers for genetic analysis, so we describe multilocus methods for species identification. We evaluate the quality of naturally shed macaw feathers in tropical environmental conditions and present new primers for molecular sexing on the feather samples. We successfully validated 11 microsatellite markers for use in genetic tagging studies on large macaws and confirmed that DNA from blood and feather samples yields equivalent population genetic patterns. The techniques described here can be implemented for other birds with higher conservation concern.

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This research was supported by funds from the Rufford Small Grant 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, Andres Veras, Jerico Solis, Crissel Vargas, Lizzie Ortiz, Gabriela Vigo, Nacy Carlos, Gustavo Martinez, the full staff and guides of Rainforest Expeditions, and the volunteers of the Tambopata Macaw Project. Thanks for laboratory technical support to Christine Hayes and Cintia Garai. Samples were collected under research permits from the Servicio Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas (SERNANP) in Peru. CITES permits were provided by the Peruvian and Australian authorities. Genetic access to the samples was granted by the Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre in Peru (SERFOR).

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Correspondence to George Olah.

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Olah, G., Heinsohn, R.G., Brightsmith, D.J. et al. Validation of non-invasive genetic tagging in two large macaw species (Ara macao and A. chloropterus) of the Peruvian Amazon. Conservation Genet Resour 8, 499–509 (2016).

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  • Parrots
  • Macaws
  • Feather
  • Genetic tagging
  • Microsatellite
  • Molecular sexing