USFWS
Genetic Monitoring for Managers
Alaska

 

What's Next

Genetic Frontiers

Molecular genetic methods are advancing quickly. In the foreseeable future, additional molecular tools such as microarrays-which allow the examination of hundreds of loci at one time-and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs; see Luikart et al. 2003), another type of molecular marker, may enable more information to be obtained from genetic samples. In fact, SNPs may ultimately replace microsatellites as they have the advantage of better conforming to well-characterized models of evolution and are more common throughout the genome (Aitken et al. 2004; Seddon et al. 2005). Furthermore, unlike microsatellites, which yield relative scores that require standards to be used for comparing results between laboratories, SNPs are believed to provide data with absolute scores-thus facilitating collaboration between researchers studying the same species. To date, the expense of developing SNPs, and questions regarding error rates, ascertainment biases, their effectiveness with noninvasive samples, and within-population variability, have limited their use in conservation genetics (Morin et al. 2004). But these issues will likely soon fade (Kohn et al. 2006; Morin and McCarthy 2007).

Rapid developments in the field of molecular ecology will continue to advance how noninvasive genetic sampling can be used to estimate abundance and occurrence. To maximize the utility of the approaches used, close collaboration between laboratory and field biologists must continue and improve. Field biologists should understand the limits of their data, while laboratory biologists must develop new tools with field applications in mind. Genetic sampling- although simple in principle-is actually complex in its execution, with attention to detail required from survey design through data analysis. Fortunately, there has been significant interest in this area, and the resulting research has demonstrated our ability to use noninvasive genetic sampling to monitor and study wild carnivore populations.