Assessing noninvasive hair and fecal sampling for monitoring the distribution and abundance of river otter
Monitoring the distribution and abundance of populations is an important component of efforts to meet management or conservation goals. Although the objectives for such studies are easy to define, costeffective, precise, and accurate estimates are often elusive. We tested the efficacy and compared the costeffectiveness of methods for estimating the number and recording the distribution of river otter (Lontra canadensis). We genotyped otter hair sampled using two noninvasive instruments and
... red those results with a hypothetical study design based on DNA extracted from fecal matter. Patterns of distribution generated from DNA collected at latrine sites were then compared to observations of otter collected using VHF radiotelemetry. We achieved a high probability of genotyping river otter with a small number of hairs (i.e., 59.0 % probability of producing a genotype with 1 guard hair and >5 under hair samples) collected using wire body snares and knaplock hair snags. Body snares were more effective at collecting otter hair, but there was relatively little additional cost to using both sampling instruments. Genotyped hair resulted in a high multiyear recapture rate (61.9 %). Hair collection and genotyping was the most cost-effective method for monitoring populations of river otter ($168.50 US/datum) followed by radiotelemetry ($264.50 US/datum), and the extraction of DNA from fecal matter ($266.00 US/ datum). However, the noninvasive techniques did not represent the full distribution and fine-scale movements of otter, as observed using radiotelemetry. There has been much recent reporting of the efficacy of fecal matter as a source of DNA for conducting mark-recapture population estimates for mesocarnivores. Our data suggested that collecting DNA in hair may be a more cost-effective and efficient approach.