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Using faecal DNA to determine consumption by kangaroos of plants considered palatable to sheep.

Research paper by K W KW Ho, G L GL Krebs, P P McCafferty, S P SP van Wyngaarden, J J Addison

Indexed on: 01 Feb '10Published on: 01 Feb '10Published in: Animal : an international journal of animal bioscience



Abstract

Disagreement exists within the scientific community with regards to the level of competition for feed between sheep and kangaroos in the Australian rangelands. The greatest challenge to solving this debate is finding effective means of determining the composition of the diets of these potential grazing competitors. An option is to adopt a non-invasive approach that combines faecal collection and molecular techniques that focus on faecal DNA as the primary source of dietary information. As proof-of-concept, we show that a DNA reference data bank on plant species can be established. This DNA reference data bank was then used as a library to identify plant species in kangaroo faeces collected in the southern rangelands of Western Australia. To enhance the method development and to begin the investigation of competitive grazing between sheep and kangaroos, 16 plant species known to be palatable to sheep were initially targeted for collection. To ensure that only plant sequences were studied, PCR amplification was performed using a universal primer pair previously shown to be specific to the chloroplast transfer RNA leucine (trnL) UAA gene intron. Overall, genus-specific, single and differently sized amplicons were reliably and reproducibly generated; enabling the differentiation of reference plants by PCR product length heterogeneity. However, there were a few plants that could not be clearly differentiated on the basis of size alone. This prompted the adoption of a post-PCR step that enabled further differentiation according to base sequence variation. Restriction endonucleases make sequence-specific cleavages on DNA to produce discrete and reproducible fragments having unique sizes and base compositions. Their availability, affordability and simplicity-of-use put restriction enzyme sequence (RES) profiling as a logical post-PCR step for confirming plant species identity. We demonstrate that PCR-RES profiling of plant and faecal matter is useful for the identification of plants included in the diet of kangaroos. The limitations, potential and the opportunities created for researchers interested in investigating the diet of competing herbivores in the rangelands are discussed.