Counting polar bears and snow leopards isn’t straightforward, but it surely’s vital if we’re to watch their survival, so a brand new method – to extract DNA from their footprints – would possibly assist.
Because the planet warms and ice caps soften, holding observe of susceptible polar animals turns into ever extra vital. However present strategies of following particular person animals are sometimes invasive and tedious.
Scientists have now developed a brand new instrument – DNA analysis utilizing pores and skin cells shed in footprints left behind within the snow.
The analysis is published in Frontiers in Conservation Science.
It’s hoped the brand new methodology might assist in vital inhabitants monitoring efforts. Vital knowledge about inhabitants dimension and connectivity which is at present lacking may be made out there.
“It’s significantly difficult, to search out polar bears within the Arctic, not to mention rely them and perceive how they’re dealing with local weather change,” says senior creator Dr Melanie Lancaster of the World Large Fund for Nature International Arctic Programme.
Polar bears may be the most important land predator on the planet, however that doesn’t make them straightforward to identify. They’ll weigh between 300 and 800 kg, however these arctic apex carnivores are susceptible. Sea ice loss from climate change is listed as the only largest menace to their survival. It’s estimated solely about 26,000 people reside on the planet at this time.
The brand new methodology additionally means it’s pointless to seize bears – hectic and harmful for each bear and people.
“Many Inuit specific concern about invasive analysis strategies,” says co-author Elisabeth Kruger of the World Wildlife Fund. “Individuals are involved concerning the welfare of the person polar bear and the well being and security of people that could harvest the bear later. This is without doubt one of the causes we’re so enthusiastic about new strategies like this – the individual amassing the pattern by no means must even see or be seen by the polar bear.”
Forensic strategies may be utilized to tiny, degraded DNA samples. Typically, DNA may be left behind by an animal in passing – environmental DNA.
Faeces incorporates environmental DNA. However the high quality is just not nice. For territorial animals – like the 2 different species concerned within the examine; lynxes and snow leopards – sampling faeces might have an effect on the animals’ behaviour.
However pores and skin cells left behind in snowy footprints additionally include DNA.
“The tracks often include contemporary cells, and the DNA is undamaged due to the chilly ‘storage’ temperature,” explains lead creator Dr Micaela Hellström of MIX Analysis Sweden AB. ”DNA that has handed the intestine is far more degraded and subsequently tougher to work on.”
By amassing snow from particular person tracks made by Alaskan polar bears and Swedish Eurasian lynxes within the wild and in captivity, and a captive snow leopard, the scientists had been capable of verify that the tracks offered correct genotypes for particular person animals.
The researchers melted and filtered the snow to gather environmental DNA. Though the concentrations of DNA retrieved from tracks sampled within the wild had been very low, it was attainable to retrieve nuclear DNA from 87.5% of untamed polar bear tracks and 59.1% of untamed lynx tracks. 13 wild polar bear samples may very well be genotyped, figuring out 12 people.
11% of the lynx tracks may very well be genotyped, however when the scientists solely seemed on the tracks sampled by skilled personnel, this rose considerably.
“We hope this methodology will likely be taken up by the polar bear analysis neighborhood, with the involvement of hunters, volunteers, and Indigenous communities, as a brand new option to accumulate data on polar bears,” Lancaster says. “We additionally hope the strategy will likely be expanded to different animals residing in snowy environments – we’ve proven it really works for lynx and snow leopards as a begin.”
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